A family affair: Author of thrillers finds himself in select company

 By Kurt Anthony Krug
Legal News

Writing best-selling novels is a family tradition for author Andrew Grant.

Not only is his wife Tasha Alexander a New York Times best-selling novelist, so is his older brother Jim Grant, better known as Lee Child, author of the mega-popular series of thrillers featuring protagonist Jack Reacher.

Grant is no stranger to penning thrillers himself with five already underneath his belt. His latest is the recently released “False Positive” (Ballantine $27), which is the start of a new series and features the debut of Det. Cooper Devereaux.

“With it being the first in the series, I was creating the world Cooper would inhabit, establishing his character. Birmingham, Ala. was the right place to set this book; it was great finding out the history of this city,” said Grant, 47, of Chicago. “I like the symmetry: Being from Birmingham, England myself, he’s from Birmingham, Ala.”

The plot of “False Positive” has Devereaux looking into the disappearance of a 7-year-old boy. However, the more he digs into this missing boy’s background, the more he learns about his own past and the less he likes.

“On a macro level, I became fascinated with the psychology of criminal profilers… Crimes where there’s no apparent motive; it makes sense to the perpetrators but not to the authorities. I was fascinated by that psychological aspect. In particular, for ‘False Positive,’ I was fascinated by impact of a person’s childhood and a person’s family origins… how those things shape a person,” explained Grant. “How much of the path do you choose for yourself and how much of it is what you have inherited from parents, genetically and environmentally? When you read it, there’s one particular discovery Cooper makes that shakes the whole foundation of his world. At the start, he’s on suspension and he’s brought back because of this crime.”

 Each book in this series will have the word “false” in the title. The next one, “False Friend,” should be out approximately at the end of 2016, according to Grant.

“Andrew and I are similar personalities, but he’s half a generation younger than me, and a little smarter, so it’s the differences between us that fascinate me. I read his books purely as a fan and think they’re great – especially ‘False Positive,’ which I think is a terrific thriller. There’s no question he’s starting out in a much tougher publishing environment than I did, so I’m impressed and very proud of how well he’s doing,” said Child, 61.

Born in England, Grant is the youngest of four. Besides Child, he has two more brothers: Richard, 63, and David, 57.

“I was the surprise of the family. When I was little, I would say, ‘It was like being an only child, only with 5 parents,’” said Grant with a laugh.

An alumnus of the University of Sheffield in England, where he received his undergraduate degree in English literature and drama, Grant had no aspirations of becoming a novelist. At least, not at first.

“I never wanted specifically to be a novelist, but what I’ve always been fascinated with is telling stories. When I was a little kid, whenever something happened to me, I’d always immediately spin it into some crazy, outlandish story that I’d tell people. That went on through the rest of my school days. At university, there was the opportunity to do drama for half of my degree because theater’s one of the most natural ways of telling a story… It really played into that lifelong obsession I had about storytelling,” recalled Grant.

Upon graduating from Sheffield, he and five friends set up a small theater company because they “felt there was a lot of stuff we wanted to finish before settling down and getting serious about a career,” according to Grant. When it folded after two years, Grant went into the telecommunications industry.

“I was completely broke and telecomm paid well,” he said, laughing. “The slightly more whimsical reason is that my grandfather had worked in telecomm before it got fully established throughout (England). It felt like in a very small way I was following in his footsteps. I thought I’d do this until I get back on my feet financially and (pursue other creative endeavors).”

However, it took longer than he thought as he had a mortgage and two daughters (from a prior marriage) to support, so Grant remained in telecomm for 15 years before pursuing writing full-time.

“In terms of technology, it’s a very fascinating field. Old fashioned telephony is interesting. The Internet was coming to the fore and the kind of services people wanted were changing,” said Grant. “It was a big change from old fashioned landlines to cell phones and the Internet – it was a fun thing to watch, seeing things get transformed.”

While working in telecomm, Grant went out of town a lot and read more to pass the time. His preference was crime fiction and Cold War spy fiction.

“One day, without really noticing, a little seed takes root – ‘Wouldn’t be fun to write one of those things yourself?’ It got magnified for me when I was reading a book with a fantastic beginning – an absolutely mind-blowing beginning – and then it petered out and the end was really unsatisfying. I found myself thinking, ‘What would I have done differently? What if this had happened?’” he explained. “It becomes an itch you’ve got to scratch”

Grant continued: “I thought, ‘One day, I’m gonna be a writer.’ But it gets to the point where you can’t keep saying it; you gotta do it. I’m a great lover of clichés… The two saddest words in English language are ‘what if?’ It struck me that I didn’t want to get to the end of my career and say ‘what if?’ It was better to try and fail, then not try at all. So I gave it a whirl. I tried for a while writing in parallel with my day job but I just couldn’t make that work. I couldn’t get any kind of momentum going. In the end, it was time to roll the dice and see what happens. So I quit my job and started writing full-time. Fortunately, I’ve been extremely lucky that I’m able to still be doing that now.”

His first novel was “Even,” which debuted in 2009. It featured protagonist David Trevellyan, formerly of Royal Navy Intelligence, who went on to star in two more thrillers: “Die Twice” and “More Harm Than Good.”

“I wanted it to be a series from the onset. I had certain parameters in mind. I wanted it so (Trevellyan) wasn’t tied down to any particular location. I wanted him to go anywhere in the world I chose to set a story. I wanted him to have an occupation that wasn’t related to a place and have that occupation explain what he was able to do, how he knows about guns, all the field-craft things... I wanted to have a plausible explanation for what he did,” explained Grant. “For his personality… They’ve been lot of books where the heroes were damaged – they were messed up from Vietnam, they were alcoholics, they were miserable because their wives had left them, those kinds of things. If someone else’s done something really well, there’s no point in doing the same thing. Even if you do it really well, there’s no point because you really haven’t added anything to it.”

So Grant did something different with Trevellyan. His hero wasn’t trying to do the right thing because of an external factor – he wasn’t trying to redeem himself.

“It was an internal drive to do the right thing even if it cost him in terms of career, health, or safety,” said Grant. “The difference was his motivation came from within; he was driven to do the right thing than for some reward or redemption from the outside.”

Currently, Grant has no plans to use Trevellyan for the foreseeable future. However, that’s not to say Grant’s done with him.

“I never say never. I don’t have a concrete plan with him right now. I certainly have more ideas and enjoyed writing him. I would like to say there may be more involving him in the future.”

Robin Agnew, co-owner of Aunt Agatha’s in Ann Arbor, hosted Grant at last September’s Kerrytown Book Fest. She really enjoys his work.

“I love Andrew's thrillers! His new book is my favorite of his so far as I am a sucker for a police procedural, and I thought the plot and the twists were excellent. He’s also one of the nicest guys in the crime fiction universe,” Agnew said.

For Grant, the best thing about being an author is hearing how fans loved his latest novel.

“The nicest thing an author could possibly hear is that someone read their book and enjoyed it,” he said. “It’s wonderful to talk to people who’ve given up their hard-earned money to buy it and make time to read it. There’s nothing better to hear that somebody read it and enjoyed it – that’s wonderful.”

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