BY OLINE H. COGDILL

Sun Sentinel

Adoptions build families and, despite problems, foster care can be a safe haven for children in transition to a new home. But greed can turn even the best of intentions into a scam and the foster care system is fraught with problems, as newspaper headlines prove.

Hank Phillippi Ryan navigates the sometimes perilous issues of adoption and foster care in “The Wrong Girl,” her second compelling novel about Boston newspaper reporter Jane Ryland. A strong plot, realistic characters and a timely theme combine for a suspenseful story that never stoops to gratuitous violence.

Once a highly respected investigative journalist for a Boston TV station, Jane now works as a newspaper reporter. She is intrigued — and a little leery — when former colleague Tucker Cameron asks her to investigate a private adoption agency. Tucker, adopted as a baby, thought that the Brannigan Family and Children Services had found her birth mother. Although she had a poignant meeting with the woman, both Tucker and her presumed birth mother are convinced that they are not related. How many other adoptees and birth mothers have paid the agency to be reunited?

Across town, Det. Jake Brogan and his partner, Det. Paul DeLuca, investigate the murder of a young woman in her apartment. The homicide appears to be a fatal case of domestic violence. Two young children are unharmed in another room and are immediately put into foster care. But an empty cradle and other evidence leads Jake to suspect that another child, possibly an infant, also stayed in the apartment and is now missing. Assigned to cover the homicide, Jane follows a trail that continues to intersect with Jake’s investigation. All roads lead back to the Brannigan agency as the two uncover a lucrative scheme that goes back decades.