Hank Phillippi Ryan masters reporting, mystery writing career
By Mark Ambrogi
As young girl growing up in Zionsville, Hank Phillippi Ryan dreamed of being a mystery writer.
“I used to read mysteries in the barn behind our house,” Ryan said. “That’s where I fell in love with Nancy Drew, Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie’s Poirot and all those wonderful storytellers.”
Ryan’s life took a detour and she ended up being a TV reporter for 40 years. She is the on-air investigative reporter for Boston’s NBC affiliate, winning 33 Emmys and 13 Edward R. Murrow awards.
“I didn’t start writing until I was 55,” said Ryan, who talked to a group of fans at Carmel Clay Public Library last month. “That little girl in the hayloft wanted to write mysteries, and I finally did.”
Ryan said she had stopped and started writing a novel before.
“I spent my entire life looking for a good plot,” Ryan said. “Then in 2005, I was sitting at my desk and had a great idea. I knew at that time it was the perfect idea for a novel. The universe was just telling me this was the time to write.”
Ryan was known as Ann Sablosky at Pike High School. However, her given name is Harriet Ann, so she picked up the nickname Hank while at Western College for Women in Oxford, Ohio.
“That was 1967 and I’ve been Hank ever since,” Ryan said.
After starting her career in radio at WIBC, she eventually got her first TV job at WTHR-13 as a political reporter. She left for an Atlanta TV station in 1976 as anchor/political reporter and then went to Boston in 1983.
As a teenager, Ryan wanted to make a difference, and investigative reporting has helped her do so.
“I’ve worked on stories on 911 problems in Massachusetts where responders were being sent to the wrong address,” she said. “We found firehouses that wouldn’t pass codes and federal jury pools where there was not one person of color. We figured out why it was happening and got it changed.”
Along the way, she said she learned how to be a storyteller. Her eighth mystery novel “What You See” was recently released, and Carmel was part of her national book tour. Her sister, Nancy Landman, a Carmel resident who has a catering company, provided some culinary treats for her sister’s fans. She is an avid reader of her sister’s books as well.
“If I didn’t like them, I would tell her,” Landman said.
Ryan has won numerous awards for her crime fiction, including five Agatha awards and the Mary Higgins Clark Award. Her first novel “Prime Time” won an Agatha for best first novel in 2007.
Her fictional protagonists in her four most recent books are reporter Jane Ryland and police detective Jake Brogan. Ryan is a firm believer in the “write what you know” concept.
“My books are ripped from my own headlines,” she said.
Her husband, Jonathan Shapiro, is a Boston criminal defense and civil rights attorney, so his cases occasionally provide fodder as well.
At 66 when many are slowing down, Ryan has no plans to retire from either pursuit.
“I’m always looking for the next big story,” said Ryan, who writes in her spare time. She hasn’t taken a vacation in seven years.