In Veil of Civility, Ian Graham has crafted a dazzling thriller, breathing fresh new life into a genre filled with character cliches and tired tropes.
A time-tested plot formula for the thriller genre presents a former spy or special operations military guy trying to escape his past, reinventing himself to lead a normal life in peaceful obscurity. But then some person or event connected to his violent past re-enters his life, shatters its tranquility, drags him back into that grim world, and rekindles his lethal talents.
Now, to be sure, there’s nothing wrong with this formula. The “reluctant hero with hidden skills and a mysterious past” is one of the enduring plot tropes that literary scholars trace throughout the history of literature. (In fact, I use it myself in my own thrillers.) The creative challenge for a writer, however, is to take a popular convention like this and make it seem newly minted.
Fortunately, Ian Graham is more than equal to the challenge. Graham’s writing talent and fertile imagination transform tried-and-true thriller elements into something I haven’t seen before. His hero, Declan McIver, is not a super-spy or spec ops veteran. He is a disillusioned ex-combatant from the brutal “Troubles” in Northern Ireland — a man scarred by the blood-soaked violence of his youth, now enjoying a new life as a happily married entrepreneur in rural Virginia. But a pleasant reunion with an old friend on a famous local college campus suddenly turns horrific as international terrorism visits the peaceful setting. Without warning, McIver finds his world upended, and he and his wife fleeing a complex conspiracy whose tentacles reach from Chechnya to Mexico, from Ireland to Wales, from Downing Street in London to the Capitol in Washington.
Graham’s characterizations are rich and deep. So are the vivid details he provides about locales, history, the web of international terrorism, weapons and gadgetry, government surveillance, and much more — details that never bog down and overburden the relentless, headlong pace of this gripping tale. And in addition to colorful international settings, much of the non-stop, violent action transpires in rural Virginia, a refreshing departure for a thriller.
Above all, in Declan McIver, Ian Graham has given us a great new thriller hero for our troubled times. With his past now revealed to the world, McIver has been dragged back into the violent life that he had tried so long to escape. That is a terrible thing for him — but a wonderful thing for his fans. As one of them, I can’t wait to see what new “Troubles” the deviously clever mind of Ian Graham has in store for him.