The following book review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link on the right side bar.
What You See by Hank Phillippi Ryan blends suspense, humor, and issues of the day. With multiple storylines told by numerous narrations, readers come to understand the workings of a crime scene. These sub-plots include murder, child abduction, and treachery. Also explored are the characters loyalties, having to decide between family and their career.
As with all Ryan’s books Jane Ryland investigates a story while Detective Jake Brogan is solving a crime, bringing both together by the end of the story. The plot begins with Jane having quit a job based upon principle. She interviews for a new job with Channel 2 and is given the task of covering a stabbing in Curley Park, Boston. Once again Jane is put into a position of covering a case her boyfriend Jake is investigating.
Ryan noted to blackfive.net, “Both Jake and Jane are honorable, determined, search for the truth, and believe in justice. In real life there must be a hard line between a law enforcement officer and a reporter, each has a job to do, and each have to protect their interests, their information, and their investigations. But Jake and Jane sometimes cross that line. So what I love about my books is that Jane and Jake in their professional lives are incredibly honorable, but in their personal lives their passion has sometimes overruled their professionalism. Throughout all the books they are trying to figure out how to deal with that ongoing struggle. What will happen to their relationship or how they will deal with it going forward? I have no idea. It’ll be fun to find out.”
The plot insightfully explores the current issue of privacy. With cameras everywhere, including in cell phones, on buildings, and on streetlights, can a crime be easily solved? A powerful quote says, “Life never just happened anymore. Memories had to be indelible, every event captured. And shared.” Because the murder takes place in front of City Hall there must be some surveillance. But this video leads into a dark conspiracy where what you see is not always as it seems.
Having to deal with the political fallout from City Hall Camera Surveillance, Catherine, the Mayor’s Chief of Staff, must juggle her job responsibilities with her family. Something any parent can relate to is this powerful quote, “Geographically, her daughter was inches away. Emotionally? Right now, Catherine didn’t have time to fix it.” But Jane also had a conflict between family and her job. While investigating the crime, her sister calls asking for help in finding her future stepchild who appears to be abducted. Ryan vividly writes how Jane is being pulled in multiple directions, forced to switch tasks and put family first. Interestingly when asked hypothetically the title of a future autobiography Jane responds, The Juggler. It is fitting since she must decide when to put family ahead of her job, something most people struggle with constantly.
Readers will also be amused with some of Ryan’s well-placed humor. In a scene there is definitely a take off on the famous “who is on first, what’s on second” skit. More than anything the humorous interludes allows for a relief from the tension packed story.
Ryan noted to blackfive.net that many professions including the police, investigative reporters, and those serving in the military need humor in their lives.
“Oh, gosh, if there’s no humor in our lives, how would we manage? As a reporter, I see relentless sorrow, injustice, violence, and fear. As a journalist, that's the drumbeat every day, sometimes feeling as if television and newspapers are full of only bad news. I was on the job during the marathon bombings, reporting live, within moments of the second explosion. How do we manage to keep equilibrium? On the air, we focus on the story, the listeners, and our responsibility. A journalist is documenting history, I think of that every moment of the day.
As a result, reporters must be careful not to let fear rule our lives, or sorrow drag it down. As a reporter, there is a need for a sense of humor, or else the world becomes relentlessly dark, bleak, and sad. Jake Borgan, as a law enforcement official, just as those who serve in the military, have the same dilemmas: they are putting themselves, as all those in public service do so bravely, in the line of fire, in the path of danger. They run toward the problem, not away from it.
So in my books, I try to leave a little room for humor, pleasure, love, and redemption, because that’s what we need in real life. I am careful to find a way for some of the characters, which as in real life, are faced with danger and grief and situations that are difficult to understand. I want them to be able to look at the world with some hope, and laughter, with love, and a sense of humanity.”
Besides humor, What You See has believable plots based upon Ryan’s experiences as a television investigative reporter who has won over thirty Emmys. Readers become enthralled and engaged with a story that has a hectic pace involving child abduction, murder, surveillance, and political secrets.