“She’s tough, focused, and a little vulnerable.” That description of news reporter Jane Ryland, one of the key characters in Hank Phillippi Ryan’s new series, and fifth book, The Other Woman (Forge), could also describe the award-winning mystery/thriller author. A longtime investigative news reporter for 7News in Boston, Ryan has earned 27 Emmys for her reporting and was recently nominated for another three. She’s also the author of four Charlotte McNally mysteries—the first won an Agatha Award—and she’s incoming president of Sisters in Crime and sits on the board of Mystery Writers of America.
Ryan describes her new suspense thriller as a cross between The Good Wife and Law and Order. Set in Boston during a senatorial election, it traces two disparate stories. Former TV news reporter Ryland, now disgraced, tracks a candidate’s secret mistress at Ryland’s new gig at a local newspaper, while Det. Jake Brogan investigates a possible serial killer. But as the election draws closer so do the two story lines, and Ryland and Brogan suspect they may be on the trail of the same person.
Inspired by a magazine article on Jenny Sanford, Ryan says, “I got the idea when Mark Sanford [then governor of South Carolina] told his wife that he was going off hiking on the Appalachian Trail, when he was meeting his Argentinian mistress. Why would someone be the other woman? At the end of the article, Jenny Sanford said, ‘You can choose your sin, but you cannot choose your consequences.’ I got goose bumps. ‘This is my book,’ I thought, ‘secrets, sex, betrayal.’”
Ryan, who regards her life as “research,” didn’t need to do a lot of additional digging to launch her Jane Ryland/Jake Brogan series. Paraphrasing Mark Twain, she says, “You’ve lived it, now you can write it.” In the 1970s, she worked as a campaign staffer, then as a legislative assistant on a U.S. Senate subcommittee before turning to journalism and a job with the Washington bureau of Rolling Stone magazine. Pointing to a tradition of political shenanigans that extends well beyond the John Edwards trial to Gary Hart’s derailed 1988 presidential campaign and since, she notes, “One of the things we do as reporters is cut through the static and get to the truth.” But journalism prepared her for fiction writing in other ways. “It’s all about telling a juicy story,” she says.