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Crisis management gets out of control in Hank Phillippi Ryan’s ‘One Wrong Word’

The latest thriller from the bestselling author puts its protagonist to work trying to keep a Boston power couple out of trouble.
 
Hank Phillippi Ryan's latest thriller is "One Wrong Word."
Hank Phillippi Ryan's latest thriller is "One Wrong Word." [ Iden Ford ]
Published Jan. 29

Arden Ward is an ace at handling other people’s crises.

It’s her job, and it pays very well. She’s a top employee at the Vision Group, a Boston crisis management firm — kind of the opposite of a typical PR company, which helps celebrities and powerful people get the word out about their accomplishments.

Arden’s firm helps them when bad things happen: Erase what can be erased, minimize the publicity, renovate their image.

When a wealthy client hits on Arden, she brushes him off; it’s just one of the annoyances built into the job. But when the client’s wife accuses Arden of having an affair with her husband, Arden’s boss gives her two weeks’ notice: She’s fired. When he has to manage his own crisis, he plays hardball.

Arden is the resourceful character at the center of “One Wrong Word,” the latest thriller by Hank Phillippi Ryan. Ryan has won multiple awards, including the Mary Higgins Clark Award from the Mystery Writers of America, for her crime fiction. She’s also an accomplished television reporter who has won multiple Emmy and Edward R. Murrow awards for her investigative and consumer reporting.

A longtime Boston resident, she brings her knowledge of the city and its wheels of power to “One Wrong Word.”

When Arden’s boss fires her, he does throw her a bone. One last case, managing the crisis of Ned Bannister and his family. It’s high profile and will pay well, so Arden can’t say no.

A year before, Ned was a powerful real estate mogul. Then he left an office New Year’s Eve party, drove his Mercedes up the ramp of the private parking lot, and hit and killed Randall Tennant, who was skateboarding down the ramp.

Now Ned is on trial for driving under the influence, vehicular homicide and reckless driving, facing 15 years in prison, his career and family in limbo.

Just days after Arden learns she’ll lose her job, Ned is acquitted on all three charges. But his troubles aren’t over, as Arden could predict. Social media attacks multiply, thousands of #skated posts decrying him as an avatar of privilege.

Ned is ready to ignore it all and return blithely to that privileged life. But it’s not that easy, as his wife, Cordelia, who’s the one who hired Arden, knows.

Cordelia had reveled in Ned’s ascent up the corporate ladder, devoting herself to him and their two kids, Pip and Emma. When the children were admitted to an exclusive private school, she threw herself into the social clique of the mothers there.

“Cordelia had adopted the yoga pants and expensive sneakers, sunglasses dangling from pretty little sweaters, the messy buns.”

But when Ned was indicted, both she and the children became outcasts. And his acquittal doesn’t seem to make any difference to the mean moms.

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Arden swiftly finds herself entangled with both Ned and Cordelia, not just wrangling the impact on them of the trial and acquittal from the world outside, but trying to sort out the stories they tell her separately as she becomes their confidant — stories that don’t always align.

Why, Arden wonders, just days after Ned is freed, does Cordelia send the kids to their grandmother’s house and fly off to Miami for a party with her old sorority friends, leaving Ned alone? And why does she ask Arden whether Ned is hitting on her? And is he?

Then there’s another car crash, and more questions about Ned, and about Cordelia, and about almost everyone Arden is trying to deal with.

Ryan builds the pacing of “One Wrong Word” skillfully, keeping both Arden and the reader spinning amid the flurry of lies, shocks and escalating danger. It’s a thrilling ride.

One Wrong Word

By Hank Phillippi Ryan

Forge, 352 pages, $28.99

Meet the author

Hank Phillippi Ryan will be in conversation about “One Wrong Word” with thriller writer Lisa Unger at 7 p.m. Feb. 13 at Tombolo Books, 2153 First Ave. S., St. Petersburg. Free; RSVP at tombolobooks.com/events.