Trust Me by Hank Phillippi Ryan
Published by Forge Books, 400 pages, $26
Journalist Hank Phillippi Ryan’s first standalone novel, Trust Me, centers on Mercer Hennessey, a reporter whose baby and husband recently died in a car crash. That makes Mercer especially vulnerable as she reads headlines about a baby dumped in Boston Harbor—a crime and trial that she is asked to write a book about.
The defendant is the dead baby’s mother, Ashlyn, whose psychopathic tendencies relentlessly whirl around her. Mercer is forced to deal with the wiggly paradox of believing Ashlyn to be guilty, while trying to get any real story from this crackpot. She also has the dicey goal of reporting Ashlyn’s alleged redemption. Sullen, dishonest and oddly un-sad, Ashlyn dances around questions—on the witness stand and elsewhere—about her child, her whereabouts at the time of the killing or believably identifying any other possible suspects.
Declared not guilty, Ashlyn moves in with Mercer to work together on the book. Ryan, an investigative reporter for decades, shows Mercer maintaining her ferocious view of Ashlyn as a killer, while suffering deeply with their ironic connection: Both have dead daughters.
Ryan clips along with the narrative, weaving in Mercer’s book chapters as an interesting way to propel the narrative. She follows the skipping stones of Ashlyn’s ever-changing story in a way that is lively in spite of the dark subject. But Ryan also has Mercer and the reader soberly wondering about truth in both legal and psychological realms.
From page 207: “Look. People love to hate me.” Ashlyn’s voice is soft, softer than I’ve ever heard. Her tone has changed. “I’m really grateful to you, Mercer. I know you’re doing this book to help me. And in a way, aren’t I just like you? A single mother. Trying to make the best of a bad deal in life. We both lost daughters. We’re both devastated. We’re both—”
I feel my back stiffen, and my eyes narrow. I will not let her say “we’re both” anything on this planet