Hank Phillippi Ryan writes thrillers like a camera in fast motion. Click. Roll. Click. Roll. The scenes change and the plot, as they say, thickens as she focuses on characters and motivations colliding against one another in "Truth Be Told." Phillippi Ryan's latest novel was released in October, the second in a new series of Jane Ryland mysteries. Her 2013 novel, "The Wrong Girl," won an Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel and the Daphne award for Mainstream Mystery/Suspense. It achieved best-seller status in the Boston Globe.
By chapter 4 of the newest book, Ryan manages to set a series of events, like tops, spinning across the novel's plot line, with multiple instances of criminal behavior gyrating across the horizon—a Boston horizon, I might add. Murder, an intricate financial scheme, a Robin Hood-like financial worker, false confessions and implications of more murders emerge with each page turn. Don't put it down and then pick it up again a few days later, or you'll be lost in the morass that opens before investigator reporter Ryland and her boyfriend, Detective Jake Brogan.
The story is well rooted in place, with descriptions of Boston streets and locales, but the novel is predictably couched within the world of good vs. evil and human weakness.
Her characters are rich: a news-mongering city editor, who doesn't mind stretching the truth, or twisting it a bit, for a good headline. A lawyer who takes on the bad guys for all the right reasons. A soft-hearted bank worker who tries to rescue delinquent mortgage holders. A crusty detective who doesn't trust media types, even if he's in love with one of them. A reporter who goes after the real story with everything she's got, even after she's given a stupid assignment to keep her busy. They collide in the wake of a slough of misdeeds leading to murder, and try to get to the truth with—or without—cooperation.
Ryan designs an interesting contrast in plotting, as police try to solve a 20-year-old case involving a possibly false confession while Jane discovers a multi-layered trail involving real estate fraud and murder. Are they connected? Leave it to Ryan to find the way.
Ryan's knowledge of journalism plants a realistic overlay throughout "Truth Be Told," as J-school ethics collide with real-world decision-making.
She appears unafraid to lay in a whole cast of characters, unlike the few found in many crime novels. And, as in real life, stuff happens to alter the plot: shifts change, strangers appear, assignments and personnel are switched. It can be confusing if one is not reading it all in one batch (which I recommend for that reason). Easy continuity is blurred by multiple scene switches in each chapter, which can confuse casual readers, but it also gives the story a lot of motion and freshness—and a lightning pace.
She's a skilled writer and mystery plotter. In short, dig in to "Truth Be Told."