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  • Mandy McHugh

Do No Harm, Christina McDonald: A Review

When I first started querying, The Night Olivia Fell was one of my comp titles. I devoured that book and loved the gritty, real-life relationships McDonald developed. When I saw Do No Harm available, I immediately hit request and was thrilled to be approved.

Emma is a respected doctor and Nate is a detective on the cusp of a promotion. They have a wonderful son and a happy relationship--until, that is, their lives are turned upside down when their son Josh is diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. On borrowed time and faced with an insurmountable debt, Emma has a choice to make: break the law, let herself be drawn into a complex underworld of drugs and opioid distribution, or turn down the only treatment that could possibly save her son's life and lose the only family she's ever known. I really enjoyed this book. As I've come to expect from McDonald's work, no character can be taken at face value; nobody is wholly good or bad. Nate is a wonderful foil for Emma, trying to do the right thing and proving that no amount of good intentions can fix the unfixable. You can't make money appear out of thin air. You can't take away chronic illness. People aren't infallible creatures. The duality of Emma's personality is what makes this book work so well. On the one hand, she's a loving wife, successful doctor, doting mother, and admired member of the community. On the other hand, she's had a troubled past and isn't above using her position in order to save the most important thing in her life. She doesn't stick to her morals as you might expect of the leading female role in a thriller/suspense. Rather, she examines her morality and makes a decision based on what she thinks she can live with. Is she willing to break her husband's trust, the implied societal rules, the law in order to save her son? Yes, she is, and that leads us to another interesting aspect of this book. Drug use in this country is a rampant social issue that affects a significant portion of the population on a daily basis. Opioids, in particular, once readily available and over-prescribed, are now regulated and noted for their addictive qualities--a fact McDonald leans into hard. There is no delicate handling of this subject. We see characters struggling with addiction. Chronic pain. Illegal immigrants drawn into dealing because they have few options or become trapped. We see "regular" people, teachers, and doctors, and store owners, involved in this underbelly of drug activity--and I think this is so important. Movies and TV portray drugs as cartel clashes and turf wars, but McDonald's characters emphasize that dangers don't always come from "the outside," and people can do bad things for good reasons. Good and bad, indeed, are subjective and always changing. I think many readers will relate to this book. It's entertaining and dramatic without being indulgent, and it breathes an authentic complexity into its characters that is too often overlooked. Smart, dark, and fast-paced, Do No Harm has teeth and and grit and isn't afraid to bite back. Out in February, I see this one rising the charts again and look forward to more from McDonald. Big thanks to Gallery and NetGalley for providing an eARC in exchange for honest review consideration.

 

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