Northwest Reads from University Book Store: “Special Operations,” by Tom Lukas

At the age of 33, Seattle writer Tom Lukas left his career as a master carpenter and licensed homebuilder to pursue fiction-writing full-time.
“Special Operations” by Tom Lukas, from Spycar Books.

Northwest Reads from University Book Store reviews the works of Northwest authors and is a recurring column in the News of Mill Creek written by expert University Book Store booksellers.

By Joe Garvin, a freelance writer and Author Events Buyer at University Book Store

At the age of 33, Seattle writer Tom Lukas left his career as a master carpenter and licensed homebuilder to pursue fiction-writing full-time. His recently released debut novel, “Special Operations,” is a dark psychological thriller inspired by a deeply personal life experience. On New Year’s Day 1986 in Auburn, Massachusetts, Lukas’ older brother Stephen became the first local police officer killed in the line of duty when he died in a car crash while responding to an emergency call.

In the decades since, Lukas has grappled with the loss of his brother, and the profound sense of survivor’s guilt it left behind. This journey through grief clearly informs much of the specifics of “Special Operations:” the book is set just south of Auburn, in the fictional city of Goddard, Massachusetts. One New Year’s morning, the untimely death of rookie Police Officer Jim Stevens shakes the town. Officials attempt to explain away the incident as, “a simple squad car wreck,” with “no questions asked.” But as suspicions linger, a rouge military nurse known as “The Illuminator” launches a spree of abductions and horrific surgical procedures to avenge Stevens’ death.

Our protagonist is police detective Nick Giaccone, an old-fashioned cop who thinks in terms of black and white; good and evil. The Illuminator’s victims, however, are themselves perpetrators of heinous crimes. And in the style of Dante’s “The Divine Comedy,” their “makeovers” follow the law of Contrapasso, whereby each punishment embodies and reflects the particular wickedness at hand. As a child predator is remade as a ghoulish Count Dracula, and a treacherous “snake in the grass” doctor transformed into a basilisk, the citizens—and eventually even Giaccone—uneasily sympathize with The Illuminator’s vigilante spirit.

With his flair for grisly horror scenes that have emotional heft, Lukas tips his hat to Stoker’s “Dracula,” Stevenson’s “Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde,” Poe, and even “Beowulf.” But to be clear, “Special Operations” is not a murder mystery: Lukas reveals the killer’s identity on the first page. This allows space for the book to instead explore the impulse to act when faced with loss, and the gray area between righteous justice and base revenge. It also allows Lukas himself, who designed the cover and included several original illustrations, to plumb his relationship with his departed brother.

Tom Lukas' debut novel is a gripping thriller in its own right. It is also remarkable as the fruit born from the wrestle with grief. Each year, members of the Auburn Police Association award a college scholarship to a graduating Auburn High School student in the memory of Lukas' brother Stephen. A portion of the proceeds from the sales of “Special Operations” will support that scholarship.

Tom Lukas will discuss and sign “Special Operations” at a free event at University Book Store in the U District (4326 University Way NE, Seattle, WA 98105) at 7 pm, June 30, 2014. The book is available for purchase in-store, by phone at (206) 634-3400, or at


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