I knew Hank from the news, of course. Everyone in New England does. But I first met her when she came to a reading of my nonfiction book, Fatherless Women. We had a good talk, and I was really touched that she and I shared some of the same issues and concerns. I wasn’t surprised, therefore, when she started writing mysteries and they had the same intensity and emotional resonance as all her other work. I’m thrilled to have her here today.
How does a book start?
It’s different and the same every time. I don’t have a repository of ideas from which I select the next one, sigh. I have an empty bucket. But I trust the universe to present the idea, the perfect idea, exactly when I need it. So far, knock on wood, that’s happened. I just need one gorgeous gem of a core of an idea, and then I recognize it, almost immediately. In Trust Me, for instance, it happened when I heard my husband practicing his closing argument for a notorious murder case. Listening to it, I was completely convinced that the defendant was absolutely innocent.
And then I imagined the wife of the prosecutor, somewhere across town, hearing hisclosing argument, in which, using the same evidence, my husband’s client was guilty. And, as I imagined it, his wife believed every word he was saying. How could that be? How could two smart people use exactly the same evidence and create two directly opposite stories? I was riveted by that idea. I wondered–how could a true crime author write the truth, when it’s impossible to know what it is? And that became Trust Me.
Who in your latest book surprised you the most, and why?
The whole book was a surprise, and it still surprises me when I read it. I had no idea how this book would go, or who would be guilty, or who would die. Just like life, right? Things surprise us. I knew the main character, Mercer Hennessey (the journalist), and Ashlyn Bryant, (the accused murderer), both had terrible secrets. But which one of them was telling the truth about them? As I wrote, there would be days when I’d wonder: why is she saying that? I had to figure it out as I wrote. And in fact, several supporting characters surprised me, too! There were times when I actually gasped. And I wish I could say more, but I want you to be surprised as well. But remember, when you widen your eyes with surprise, imagine me doing exactly the same thing.
When or where is your latest book set?
Trust Me is set in three basic places, and it’s such fun to see how that works. The wide shot is the deep broad story of a gruesome murder, which may have taken place in Ohio, or maybe in Boston, or maybe…who knows where. The entire case unfolds in an historic Boston courtroom, and comes to life in the pages of my main character’s true crime novel–a book in a book. It also takes place in a lovely Boston suburb, the fictional Linsdale, which I imagine as Dover, Lincoln, Concord, that kind of lovely little town. But some of the action takes place in a sort of locked room setting… with my two main characters, a reporter and the accused murderer, working on a true crime expose. The two women are in fear of going outside–one because she cannot face her neighbors, and the other because she is terrified of being recognized. So they face off in an intensely manipulative (and dangerous) cat and mouse game. But which one is the cat, and which one is the mouse?
What are you working on now?
Ha. I’m gearing up for my nationwide book tour for Trust Me, incredibly exciting. And also getting ready to leap into revisions of my 2019 psychological standalone, The Murder List. I am thrilled with it as well, and it is surprising me on every page, too! But I’m truly looking forward to having people read Trust Me, I cannot wait to hear what they think, and the initial reaction has been astonishing. The Booklist starred review said “it’s a knockout. First-rate psychological suspense.” So, hooray.
Which question didn’t I ask you that I should have?
Do I know the endings of my novels before I write them? No. Would I be able to come to a library or bookstore or book club or women’s organization to speak? Yes, of course! Love to. After 40 years as an investigative reporter, am I delighted every day to have this new fiction part of my career? Absolutely!
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN is on-air investigative reporter for Boston’s WHDH-TV, winning 34 EMMYs and dozens more journalism honors. The nationally bestselling author of 10 mysteries, Ryan’s also an award-winner in her second profession—with five Agathas, two Anthonys, two Macavitys, the Daphne, and the Mary Higgins Clark Award. Her novels are Library Journal’s Best of 2014, 2015 and 2016. Hank’s newest book is psychological thriller TRUST ME (August 28, 2018) ‒ named one of the Best Thrillers of Summer 2018 by New York Post, BOOK BUB, PopSugar and CrimeReads.