Hank Phillippi Ryan’s The Other Woman is timely, taking place in the middle of a senatorial campaign that closely resembles the real one currently going on in Massachusetts. It’s a great hook, and the brief glimpses into the life of a candidate during the run up to November are exciting and tension-filled. But in spite of its ties to the current political climate, the novel is a standard crime thriller, where a large cast pieces together a mystery that threatens to bury them all.
In the middle of that mystery are Jane Ryland and Jake Brogan, a journalist and detective whose romantic ties are an ongoing source of trouble. After refusing to reveal a source on a high-profile story, Jane loses her job on a local news show. In an act of desperation, she becomes a newspaper reporter. Once she’s sent to cover the senatorial election, she finds that Owen Lassiter, the former Massachusetts governor vying for the seat, may be having an affair. Meanwhile, Jake investigates a series of drownings that look like a serial killer’s work. The victims have ties to the senate campaign and the story that got Jane fired, leading Jane and Jake to bounce off each other as the plot progresses, all while dodging their feelings for each another in an effort to remain professional.
Ryan begins Jane and Jake’s stories with many balls already in the air, but keeps adding twists and dead ends as she goes. It’s a joy to see so many well-plotted stories move together in a cohesive way, and she has a knack for making even red herrings come to a comfortable conclusion. No mystery in The Other Woman is particularly baffling, but the sheer number of them—and their believable resolutions—is impressive.
Likewise, Ryan’s use of her own experience in a campaign office—she has been a U.S. Senate staffer and is currently a reporter for NBC in Boston—gives the scenes inside Lassiter’s headquarters an authentic feel. Modern politics’ ability to turn on a dime is aptly used to move this thriller forward, and Ryan recreates the actual tension of living inside a campaign. All the political double-crossing, lies, and power grabs in The Other Woman are enough for their own story, but here, they augment the murder mystery, giving the book a gripping vérité.
Unfortunately, plot and politics are what Ryan does best, and the rest of The Other Woman doesn’t live up to them. Jane and Jake’s relationship is meant to provide romantic tension with a “will they/won’t they?” plot, but Ryan’s depiction is so repetitive, it quickly becomes irritating. Every time Jane thinks of Jake, up pops a description of his hunky body, or a thought about whether they could ever be together. The occasional reminder of their mutual attraction is fine, but Ryan goes overboard. It’s unclear what brought them together in the first place, aside from the fact that they’re both young, attractive, and single, which makes it hard to care whether they decide to start a relationship against their better judgment.
Lack of motivation is a problem for much of The Other Woman’s cast. No one acts in a totally unbelievable manner, but no one’s reasons ever feel adequately explained—Jane and Jake’s mutual interest is the best example. Paper-thin characterization is common to most crime thrillers, but since Ryan harps on particular relationships among the cast, the lack of depth in her players is all the more glaring. Nonetheless, her masterful plotting goes a long way toward covering up any issues with character. The Other Woman is such a propulsive read that the awkward character beats can’t slow it down, and Ryan deftly pulls the story through her endless mysteries to a rousing conclusion.