Architect of Suspense: Tom Grace presents "Undeniable" at Nicola's


Author Tom Grace and his book "Undeniable"

He's a thriller: Michigan native and U-M grad Tom Grace brings his latest Nolan Kilkenny novel to Nicola's Books on Sunday, Jan. 21.

The inspiration for his hero’s name comes from his nephew and ancestral home. His love for thrillers comes from his father and brothers. And being an architect leads to a unique and intriguing writing style. These influences all lead to the successful Nolan Kilkenny series by bestselling author Tom Grace.

The first Kilkenny book, Spyder Web, is a thriller that launched the former NAVY seal protagonist into a pursuit of modern day pirates who stole intelligence programs from the CIA -- the titular SPYDER program. Book six of the Kilkenny saga, Undeniable, finds the hero involved in a race against time to find a cure for a young boy suffering from a genetic disease. Genetic testing shows that the boy, adopted in a “blind” adoption, and Kilkenny have the same biological father. This revelation thrusts Kilkenny into the world of reproductive technology of clones, stem cells, DNA -- and blackmail. 

Born and raised in Michigan, Grace studied at the University of Michigan, saying that one of his literary influences was Professor Bill Scott who taught a course on theory and philosophy in architecture. “I wrote a paper on originality, creativity, and style that so impressed Scott that he suggested I consider writing about architecture professionally," Grace said. "I’ve always enjoyed writing and that compliment planted the seed that someday I might get paid to write.”

Grace maintains a private practice in architecture and when building spaces, Grace imagines how people will use the space, and this training “lends itself very well to describing how my fictional characters will behave and interact with their surroundings.” This leads to very visual and detailed sense of places in all of Grace’s novels. “I have a strong sense of visual place," Grace said, "which plants my readers in the places my characters inhabit, setting the stage for the action to unfold.”

In addition to this sense of place, Grace’s books share common themes of rapidly advancing science and technology. Again, this mirrors his other work. In 1992, Grace designed the Human Applications Laboratory for Gene Therapy in the U-M Hospital, which was the first facility of its kind and where Grace says he “received a solid grounding in genetics from the (lab) researchers.” That knowledge led to the basis of Dark Ice, the third novel in the series. 

Grace’s advice for writing is a variation on a theme: write what interests you and what you can research. “My novels start with a simple idea," he said. "I start with plot and characters and then proceed to ask questions.”

These questions lead him to the rabbit hole of research. For example, Grace said that what he knows about forensic DNA testing comes from “interviewing people at the State Police Crime Lab. ... What I know about polar research and the Russian South Pole research station Vostok came from interviewing and U-M researcher who emigrated from Russia and took me to the magnetic North Pole so I could see what two-mile-thick slab of ice at the top of the world really looks like. Sometimes the research is all books and internet, but the best work is talking to people who live what I’m writing about and visiting the places I use in my stories. That’s the kind of work that brings the story alive.”

Patti F. Smith is a special education teacher and writer who lives in Ann Arbor with her husband and cat.

Tom Grace discusses his latest Nolan Kilkenny book, "Undeniable," at Nicola’s Books, 2513 Jackson Ave., Ann Arbor, on Sunday, Jan. 21 at 3 pm. Free. Visit for more info.