With his eighth book, Invisible, out this month from Ballantine, Andrew Grant wanted to appeal to a wide range of readers while balancing the complexities of uncertainty, surprise and action. His approach was to create a hero who “very much resonated within the time that we live in, a hero that was most suited for current times.” Protagonist Paul McGrath comes home to New York City after many years away as military intelligence officer, a career that alienated him from his pacifist father. He arrives too late for reconciliation. His father died under questionable circumstances, and the man police believed responsible walked away during the trial due to a legal technicality. In an attempt to find the truth about what happened to his father, and gain access to restricted areas within the courthouse, McGrath, whose motto is the only constant is change, takes a job as a courthouse janitor.
In the large, busy Manhattan courthouse, McGrath the janitor is a fly on the wall and witness to layers of lawyers and bureaucracy protecting perpetrators of corruption, racketeering, sex-trafficking, money laundering, and complicated white-collar crimes. In McGrath, Grant sought to create a modern-day Scarlet Pimpernel, an anonymous hero who does not seek glory, recognition or reward, but goes to great lengths to do what’s right for those who otherwise slip through the cracks.
Grant spoke with Spine about exploring the psychology of selflessness while creating a vigilante hero. “Why would anyone step up for no evident external reward? We exist in an attention-seeking world where almost every thought and action is posted on social media. We also live in a society where there is an ever-widening gap that divides those with resources, who can do whatever they want, from those who lose, or lack the means to stop them.”
When considering McGrath’s motivation in seeking justice, Grant also kept this question in mind: What would compel someone to jump in to stop a crime instead of calling the police?
When McGrath served in the military, he had clear paths to problem solutions. But in civilian life, solving a problem is more complex. “He is used to an environment where right and wrong are clearly defined, where roles are clearly defined. His struggle in the civilian world is trying to get anything done because the problems don’t solve themselves. His conclusion is, he’s just got to take care of it himself.”
McGrath’s transformation from a military intelligence operator to a crime-solving custodian in today’s world is difficult and substantiative. He finds himself trying to navigate with murky, ambiguous rules and dead ends. Grant created a man with interesting moral concerns and a strong personal sense of justice, who pushes the boundaries of what is right versus what is legal.
Grant leaves his hero, and his readers, with lingering questions. McGrath will continue to be a champion for the underdog in further books, to be collectively called The Janitor Thrillers.
E.F. Sweetman is a writer living in Beverly, Massachusetts. Her stories have appeared in noir, crime, flash, horror, and gothic anthologies Microchondria II, One Night in Salem, Switchblade V, Sixx, and Stiletto Heeled, EconoClash Review, Broadswords and Blasters, and FunDead's upcoming Gothic Anthology. She lives with her husband, two sons, and three rescue dogs. When she is not working on her noir novel, which she hopes to finish before she turns 95, you can find her glaring out the window at her neighbors.