Out tomorrow, The Wrong Girl is Ryan’s second book in a new series for Forge. Last year’s critically acclaimed The Other Woman won the Mystery Writers of America Mary Higgins Clark Award and was also nominated for Agatha, Anthony, Daphne, Macavity and Shamus Awards for Best Novel. The author previously wrote four mysteries featuring reporter Charlotte (“Charlie”) McNally. The investigative reporter for Boston’s NBC affiliate, Ryan has won 30 Emmys and twelve Edward R. Murrow Awards for her journalism.
As the story begins, readers are reintroduced to newspaper reporter Jane Ryland, who is still smarting following a very public firing from network television after her refusal to give up a source. Though she has managed a professional resurrection at the Register, Jane is all too aware that she is only as good as her last byline—and that she becomes expendable without a scoop. Further complicating matters is her (mostly) innocent flirtations with Detective Jack Brogan, as consummation of a romantic relationship would jeopardize both of their professional livelihoods.
Our protagonist is reminded of the ramification of just such an elicit entanglement when a former colleague, Tucker Cameron, unexpectedly shows up at her doorstep. Tucker, who was fired from the Register for sleeping with a source, knows that Jane’s investigative prowess could prove crucial in unraveling a potential scandal: a local adoption agency that may knowingly be reuniting adults with the wrong birth parents. This story has particular poignancy for Tucker, as she believes that she may be a victim. Though initially reluctant to get involved, Jane realizes the explosive nature of the allegation and can’t help but jump in with abandon.
Meanwhile, Jack has been called to the scene of a homicide—an apparent case of domestic violence that has resulted in a young woman’s death. The two children found in the apartment are ushered into foster care, and an empty cradle at the scene hints at the existence of a baby, too, though none is found. As Jack pursues this perplexing case, he finds that his and Jane’s paths are crossing repeatedly, and that there may be some underlying commonalities to their interests. A rising body count, a menacing caller, and a truth that somebody (or somebodies) will kill to keep revealed increasingly amplifies the action.
Both Jane and Jack are extremely likeable, realistically fallible, characters, and the romantic tension that builds between them is palpable—and believably executed, given the threats that exist within the plot to expose their vulnerabilities. In addition to nimbly avoiding cliché in this area, Ryan offers insightful, probing, and occasionally heartrending commentary on the humanity behind the headlines of adoption and foster care issues, which are everyday realities that transcend fiction. (There’s also an amusing, if alarming, subplot regarding the very real underground murderabilia business, which Ryan handles with a deft balance of fascination and incredulity.)
Ultimately, it’s the relentless yet entirely plausible twists that propel this page-turner to its nail-bitingly satisfying conclusion. Engaging characters, snappy dialogue, and the author’s insider knowledge of media mechanics help set this book apart as one of fall fiction’s finest thrillers. Or, to put it more simply, The Wrong Girl is right on. This is Hank Phillippi Ryan’s best yet—and that’s high praise, indeed …
With thanks to Hank Phillippi Ryan for providing a review copy of The Wrong Girl.