I met rising suspense author Hank Phillippi Ryan (The Other Woman), at Bouchercon 2011—the annual convocation of mystery writers and fans, held that year in St. Louis. She had staked out a counter job at the Welcome Booth for the event, so she was sure to meet as many attendees as possible. Because of the presence of Ridley Pearson, then a St. Louis author who had been very friendly to local new writers, I made it a point to attend a breakout session of mystery and suspense writers. It was moderated, to the extent she could manage it, by Ryan, also an award-winning Boston TV investigative reporter.
This session included authors Jeff Abbott (Adrenalin), Ridley Pearson (Walt Fleming mysteries and the Peter and the Starcatcher Disney series), Steve Hamilton (Misery Bay, an Alex McKnight Mystery), Harlen Coben (Shelter, his latest Mickey Bolitar novel) and Joseph Finder (Buried Secrets, the new Nick Heller novel, Yale Class of ’80, Whiffenpoofs member). A typical interchange, punctuated by uproarious laughter from the audience, went like this (and I quote):
Harlan Coben: I never let research slow down the act of writing the story. Don’t slow the action with cute factoids. Just write the goddamn book!
Joseph Finder: Fix it in post.
Ridley Pearson: All we really mean when we say research is tax deductible travel.
Hank Phillippi Ryan: What did you read as a kid?
Ridley Pearson: Kipling and Poe.
Jeff Abbott: Well, aren’t you special! I read the Hardy Boys.
Harlen Coben: As a young boy, as I was dandled on my daddy’s knee, we read the Collected Works of Ridley Pearson.
When the barbs and gags got completely out of control, Ryan drew herself up like a station wagon mom with an unruly brood: “Do I have to stop this car?”
She asked what it meant to have arrived as authors. Coben, Pearson and Hamilton agreed that the experience was anticlimactic, since the real fun was in the journey, coming up together from obscurity, celebrating each other’s little victories along the way.
In addition to such on-air talent for witty, instant repartee and managing her guests, Ryan is an accomplished, award-winning author. The novel she was about to release after the conference in 2011, The Other Woman, which I recently read. was the first in a new crime thriller series,
When Boston police detective Jake Brogan is assigned to investigate two murders at Charles River bridges, a third body is found in a similar location. The terrified local citizens fear a serial killer, but Brogan is not convinced and digs deeper. This latest victim was a key witness in a defamation suit against TV anchor Jane Ryland, a reporter Brogan has worked with and would like to win, were it not for the conflict of interest between his job and the news media. The detective soon learns that a victim may be connected with an upcoming political campaign for US Senate.
The tale involves corrupt politicians, dirty tricks, deception, triple mistaken identity, and numerous sudden twists in an intricate and fast-moving plot. The pressures driving its suspense are an upcoming election which is weeks, then days, away and the terrified citizens’ pressure on police to locate and arrest a serial killer in their midst.
When you finish reading this lightning-paced crime novel, no doubt breathless as I was, you will understand how Hank Phillippi Ryan earned her Agatha, Anthony and Macavity awards, in addition to her twenty-seven Emmys and ten Edward R Murrow awards for her reporting. If you like crime thrillers, you shouldn’t miss this one.
Until next time, good words to you!
Peter H. Green, author of Chicago’s Designs: a Patrick MacKenna Mystery