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Mystery Thriller Novel Strives to Help Sexual Violence Survivors

U.Va. alumnus uses fiction to increase awareness of sexual assault

Set in a small, fictional Massachusetts town, Tom Lukas’ “Special Operations” claims to be “a thriller that could save a life.” The novel follows old-fashioned, no-nonsense First Detective Nick Giaccone as he tries to understand the twisted mind of the Illuminator, a war-veteran-nurse-turned-vigilante.

Giaccone is about to retire when the Illuminator appears in sleepy Goddard, Mass. Traumatized by the death of her brother, the Illuminator becomes determined to punish people guilty of committing heinous crimes. She goes as far as to surgically transform a suspected sexual predator into the physical manifestation of Count Dracula.

Although the identity of the Illuminator is known from the beginning, the plot of “Special Operations” is gripping from the first page.

The psychological showdown between Cassandra — the woman behind the Illuminator — and Giaccone is absorbing on its own, but the book’s revelations on grief and forgiveness are what make “Special Operations” difficult to put down.

While the author’s writing style takes a little getting used to, the complex prose is necessary to reflect the religious fanaticism of the Illuminator. Lukas’ ability to illustrate the character’s irrational obsession while still creating realistic emotional depth is certainly one of the high points of the novel.

Although “Special Operations” is a great work of fiction in and of itself, the purpose behind it differentiates it from other psychological thriller novels.

“I wrote ‘Special Operations’ …to put at least one balanced story about surviving male childhood sexual abuse on the map,” Lukas said. “One that would equally entertain, and dramatize the dilemma faced by male survivors of sexual child abuse, who in our culture go horribly under-represented, which proliferates a cultural avoidance that can be very dangerous — to survivors and to others.”

As a teenager, Lukas was sexually abused by an older man, causing him to withdraw from his interests and from the people around him. It took Lukas a long time to gather the courage to rebuff the man’s advances.

“Once I had found the strength to tell [the man] ‘no more, ever,’ …I remember that I stood up, straightened my back, and told him, ‘you know one day I’m going to write a book about you,’” Lukas said.

Throughout the entire experience, however, Lukas said he discovered his desire to write. After high school, Lukas used his spare time trying to imitate the pieces he read in literary journals, like The New Yorker.

Despite many rejections, Lukas continued to write. He eventually decided to enroll at the University to study English Literature.

At the University, Lukas once again encountered instances of sexual abuse when a friend claimed to be sexually assaulted by a faculty member. The University took no disciplinary action against the reported perpetrator.

Lukas materialized his anger and frustration over these traumatizing experiences and expressed them in his first novel, “Contrapasso, or, A Season of Consequence.”

Lukas decided to channel his experiences into a fictional novel instead of a memoir because of an article published by Karen A. Olio and William F. Cornell, titled “Making Meaning, Not Monsters: Reflections on the Delayed Memory Controversy.”

“[The article] talks about psychological processes through which survivors of sexual child abuse make meaning of [a] biographical event and recognize salient fact…I thought: no way I can help a reader accomplish that by writing a memoir,” Lukas said. “I think fiction — the overarching metaphor of a novel — presents the crucial truths more universally.”

Lukas said he hopes “Special Operations” will help people unite against sexual violence. In light of recent sexual assault issues the University community continues to navigate, Lukas hopes that his novel can be used in University courses.

“I wanted to write a book so raw and honest it would shift some readers out of ‘neutral’ — shatter patterns of quiescence,” Lukas said.

Lukas’ dedication to raising awareness about sexual violence and male sexual abuse survivors extends beyond literary endeavors. He has fitted his Spycar, a black vintage 1972 Volvo p1800e, with the Literary Canon — a mechanical arm that allows people to quite literally, “throw the book at sexual violence” — and is driving it across the country.

He hopes to bring the Spycar to Charlottesville in support of Take Back the Night, a mid-April event dedicated to supporting sexual violence survivors and raising awareness.

Beginning this Tuesday, Lukas will be holding a three-day giveaway in which members of the University community will be able to obtain the Kindle version of “Special Operations” for free.

“Special Operations” is the first installment of Lukas’ ‘The Seethrough Spybook Series.’ Lukas is currently working on what is sure to be an equally-thrilling sequel, “Blood Rain.”