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HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN is a USA Today bestselling author of 12 thrillers, winning the most prestigious awards in the genre: five Agathas, three Anthonys, the Daphne, and the coveted Mary Higgins Clark Award. She is also the on-air investigative reporter for Boston's WHDH-TV, with 37 EMMYs and dozens more journalism honors. Book critics call her “a master of suspense.” In paperback: THE MURDER LIST, an Agatha, Anthony, Macavity and Mary Higgins Clark Award nominee. Hank’s newest novel: THE FIRST TO LIE, and the Publishers Weekly starred review says "Stellar… Hank Phillippi Ryan could win a sixth Agatha with this one."

First, congratulations on the success of your newest Thriller The First to Lie, which released just this last August. Publishers Weekly hails this as “Stellar” and claims you could “win a sixth Agatha with this one,” while Sarah Pekkanen says, “book clubs will gobble it up.” What was the most exciting moment for you personally in releasing The First to Lie, your twelfth Thriller?

Well, in any circumstance, it’s always crazy-chaotic to release a book-- exciting, and terrifying, and wonderful, and life-changing. This was the first time, however, I have released a book in a pandemic, and, as it happened, in a tropical storm, with downed trees everywhere and widespread power outages. But we persevered! And it was glorious to have 100 people on Zoom, all supporting me in this book I love so much. And yes, that starred review from Publishers Weekly had me floating through the entire event!

Themes of revenge, family secrets, big and little lies, and strong female characters drive the force behind this newest page-turner. Have you ever combined these elements before in any of your other works? And how does The First to Lie differ from your other acclaimed and tremendously received Thrillers?

Such an interesting question. I think all of my books revolve around justice and truth – – they are all page turning thrillers, and designed to have you be so immersed in the story that you forget everything else. But of course, what holds a book together is it theme, and I am constantly irresistibly interested in justice, and truth, and how people deal with each other. I think psychology—and gaslighting, and manipulation—can be powerful weapons. Dangerous and deadly and terrifying. I do thin THE FIRST TO LIE is unique among my books in that it has a medical element. One of the keys of the book is the yearning that people have for a family of their own. And moreover, what would happen if that desire was promised them, then yanked out from under them? How people—and corporations--rationalize their decisions as being “all for the best” when really what they mean it is the best for them. It gives me goosebumps to think of it.

The first to lie is about betrayal motherhood, obsession, and revenge. Have I used those elements before? Of course. That is what life is all about.

What inspired the story behind The First to Lie?


THE FIRST TO LIE was inspired by an undercover investigation I did as a reporter—in disguise and carrying a hidden camera into a doctor’s office to see if the doctor would lie to me about his malpractice history. It was terrifying, and high stakes, and laws in Massachusetts were changed as a result of our investigation.

But I did not know that was the inspiration for the book until I started to write the book! And then, at one moment mid-first-draft, I realized oh! That’s what I’m writing about! The reality is, I have no idea what happens next in my books until I write the next word or the next sentence or the next paragraph –everything that happens, even the end, is a surprise. So it was astonishing to see my real life experience burble up from under the surface and inform the story.

What compels you to writing these characters living lies within lies through so many different layers? Do you find any difficulty in bringing these aspects of your character to life? What compels you to write these characters living lies?

Oh, my goodness, it’s so much fun to write these characters! It’s like method acting--I put myself into their brains, and into their motivations, and into their world. I figure out what they want, and try to see how far they will go to get it, and when I put obstacles in their way, it’s fascinating for me to see what they’ll do to achieve their goal. Is it justice, or revenge, or obsession? I write the story to find out. It’s incredibly exciting, and every page reveals something new to me.

In addition to being a highly acclaimed Thriller and Suspense author with multiple Agatha Awards and Anthony awards, the Daphne Award, and the Marry Higgins Clark Award under your belt, you are also an on-air investigative reporter for Boston’s WHDH-TV and have received thirty-seven EMMYs along with countless other journalism honors. How much of your work as an investigative journalist overlaps into your thrilling fiction?

I am the luckiest person in the world to have been an investigative journalist for so many years. And I’m still on the air here in Boston. I have wired myself with hidden cameras, confronted corrupt politicians, gone undercover and in disguise. I’ve been in prisons, and behind the scenes in court houses. I’ve had people confess to murder, and convicted murderers insist they were innocent. I know how people look when they lie, and about --oh, for example, the secret back rooms of the airport.
 So of course, all that experience and stress and responsibility and access goes into my novels. My books are not my television investigations changed into fiction, not at all. But after 40 years as a reporter, I know how to tell a story! And that practice has completely informed my fiction career

Conversely, does the way you weave your characters’ struggles into the story and “get into their heads” to leave readers breathless have any effect on how you approach a new journalism story?

So interesting! No, I don’t think so, actually. My goal as a television reporter is absolutely to get into the heads of the people I’m interviewing--what do they want, and how far will they go to get it. And that’s exactly how I look at a crime fiction story. In both instances, I ask myself: why do I care? Because if I care, the reader/viewer will care. So it’s all about an important story: with a problem that needs to be solved, a character you care about, where the good guys win and the bad guys get what’s coming to them. And in the end, you get justice and change the world a bit. Whether it is crime fiction or fact, it’s the same.

What was the most real-life thrilling situation you’ve experienced personally?

Oh, I have covered swat teams charging into hostage situations with teargas, fires and murders, and hurricanes, I have carried a hidden camera and gotten caught, I have chased down criminals, and confronted corrupt politicians. Lives and laws have changed as a result of our story. I’ve been threatened, and pushed down, and followed, and stalked, and yelled at. As an investigative reporter, I am the one you do not want to have on the other end of your phone line! So every day is an adventure.

Are there any other genres in which you have or would enjoy writing?

I love crime fiction, and I am devoted to it. I have thought about writing crime fiction set in another time – – and I I am thinking about doing that. But right now I am still challenging myself to get better and better as a crime fiction author.

What is your favorite Thriller novel by another author? What is your favorite novel in any other genre?

How much time do you have? My favorite ever? The Charm School by Nelson DeMille, Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth, The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths, and Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. I could go on and on and on.
My favorite novel in another genre? The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton, Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe, and The Stand by Stephen King.

And finally, for any of our readers out there doubling as budding Thriller authors themselves, what would you say are the most important elements of writing believable, edge-of-your-seat, nail-biting Suspense and Thriller novels? ?

I want you to miss your stop on the bus because you are turning pages as fast as you can – – so no tangents, no long descriptions, no murky backstory. Just forward motion, as the story powers relentlessly ahead. 

Something has to happen all the time. Something you care about, something that matters, with supremely high stakes, personally and in the big picture. Thrillers are all about secrets, aren’t they? Who has a secret, who’s going to tell the secret, how far will someone go to protect it, and what will happen if it becomes public. Suspense is all about high stakes, and high tension, and a ticking clock. You will never hear in any of my books the phrase: Two weeks went by, and then… Or: After a leisurely dinner we…

The clock is ticking at every moment. I write cat and mouse thrillers--so my absolute goal is to have you wondering: which character is the cat? And which character is the mouse? And that is what makes a Hank book!

Thank you so much for joining us for this exclusive interview at TopShelf Magazine, Hank, and congratulations again!

Thank you Kathrin Hutson for the terrific interview!