“This suspense is terrible. I hope it will last.”

                                                      OSCAR WILDE

 

There’s nothing like a good mystery novel to while away a frigid winter weekend. And if tightly written mystery fiction with a strong female character and a full bag of suspense is your literary insulator of choice to help avoid treacherous sidewalks and frozen extremities then Say No More by Hank Phillippi Ryan will wrap you up nicely.

When the temperature outside falls off the balcony and crashes down into the minus double digits, you can keep your snowmobiles, toboggans and ice skates, thanks very much. I like to stay inside and indulge in a good read. I usually build some comfort food for later and leave it on low heat to simmer for three or four hours. Then I fold myself into a soft chair, put part of my brain on re-charge, open a likely-looking book that I haven’t read (or sometimes an old favourite) and let the story take me to another place.

This is the fifth book in Hank Phillippi Ryan’s mystery/crime series…

The first weekend in March 2017, in Ottawa, the temperature was nasty and biting over both days. I was therefore grateful that Say No More had been recommended to me as a likely candidate for an easy winter escape. I put together a hearty pasta sauce with extra mushrooms and green pepper and set the stove element to one. Then I settled back under a duvet with my feet up and the spicy sweetness of oregano keeping my nose company, cracked the book cover with anticipation and hunkered down for a good read. I was not disappointed.

This is the fifth book in Hank Phillippi Ryan’s mystery/crime series featuring the lead character Jane Ryland, but the first one that I have read. Some people want to go back and read a mystery series beginning with the first book. I don’t find that necessary if the author injects enough of the series characters’ back stories into each book so that any one of them can be read and enjoyed as a stand-alone. In Say No More you get to know enough about Jane Ryland and her circle of influence so that the book on its own is still a complete and satisfying story.

She moves the story along briskly through the thoughts of both the major and minor characters.

Say No More is written in third person and the point of view changes with each character. This is often difficult to pull off effectively in fiction but the author does it well here, without blatant stereotyping. She moves the story along briskly through the thoughts of both the major and minor characters.

In a scene where the principal character Jane Ryland and her producer are interviewing a witness, you quickly get a feeling for the dynamic of the room in a single paragraph of interior monologue. The witness is sizing up the two women before she is willing to talk to them.

“Jane was nice, Isabel thought. With a nice voice, Isabel always noticed that. And a thoughtful manner, kind of like welcoming, like a friend. Not like the other one, the bossy one, acting like a second-rate alto who always wanted center stage. Jane was clearly, like, sincere. Somehow you could tell. And successful, and engaged in her profession. Isabel felt it, the connection, soon as the two older women entered her apartment.”

…she can get the flavour of a physical setting exactly right with just a couple of sentences..

Hank Phillippi Ryan also seems equally capable in getting into the heads of both women and men, an added challenge for any writer to carry off with authenticity. And she can get the flavour of a physical setting exactly right with just a couple of sentences; like where Jake Brogan, a Boston homicide officer, is listening to one of his informants in the police station.

“Phones rang, doors slammed, cops complained. With the fragrance of bad coffee surrounding them and the August heat defeating the muttering air conditioners, Jake let Grady talk. The longer Grady talked, the less Jake had to, and Jake had no good news and zero options. With only casual attendance at high school, and two parents and two brothers already doing time, Grady didn’t have many career choices. He possessed no skills, and no talent to speak of, except for a Boston-friendly demeanor—including ginger hair, green eyes, a stubby body comfortable on a soccer field or a harbour trawler—and a good ear. Grady knew when to keep quiet, and, lucky for Jake and for the kid’s so-far-pristine criminal record, when to talk.”

The plotting of Say No More is complex. The title is reflective of the essence of the book in several different ways.  A witness is reluctant to divulge information in the police investigation of a murder, a young woman is reluctant to go public about her sexual assault experience on a college campus and the principal character, Jane Ryland, who is a television reporter in Boston, is threatened by an anonymous message—SAY NO MORE— after seeing and reporting a hit and run vehicle incident.  The story builds from there, with multiple plot lines.

Say No More won a Library Journal Best Thriller of 2016 award and is also a nominee for both the Agatha and the Mary Higgins Clark mystery fiction awards.

Another thing that makes this book a compelling read is the suspense, which carries right through to the end. It is ratcheted up to high tension in a number of ways. Besides each character quickly moving the story forward in their heads one scene after another, the chapters are quite short. There are sixty four of them, averaging about six pages each so that adds extra tightness. Then, the chronology is also compressed. The whole book is set over just four days in a single week. So help me, there’s a subconscious effect to doing that; art imitating life. The author is pretty much forcing the characters to settle things up by the weekend.

Hank Phillippi Ryan’s books have won numerous literary awards in past years and that shows again in this highly polished work. Say No More won a Library Journal Best Thriller of 2016 award and is also a nominee for both the Agatha and the Mary Higgins Clark mystery fiction awards. The author has also won multiple awards as an investigative journalist. If you are a mystery lover or enjoy a good fast paced thriller, this book offers an abundance of both.  REG

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Say No More