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  • Writer's pictureMandy McHugh

Playing Nice, JP Delaney: A Review

Beautiful cover, loaded synopsis, I was thrilled to receive an eARC of Playing Nice. However I thought this book would unravel, I did not expect what actually happened. That's the best kind of book, in my humble opinion. I knew JP Delaney had some best sellers, but this is the first title I've actually read, and in so many ways, it did not disappoint. Peter and Maddie have a relatively conventional relationship, raising their two year old son Theo together. Maddie works, and Pete stays home, normal days ensue until one morning, a man arrives on their doorstep with life-changing news: Theo is not Pete's son. Automatically, you think cheating, because this is a thriller, and the normal course of action tends to involve affairs and secret encounters. However, the true plot quickly descends into something much more nefarious. Theo, a NICU baby, was switched at birth with Miles and Lucy's baby, David. Tests prove it, families are notified, and all agree to try to work out an arrangement. The agreement swivels into drama within pages, and what follows is an examination into social norms, legal pitfalls, psychopathy. The stakes are high from the beginning, something that makes this engrossing from page one to the very end. There's not a single page wasted in terms of character development to conflict, and I got lost in the minutiae of the multiple investigations. Playing Nice is the kind of book you won't be able to put down. Tropes are turned on their heads, and every assumption you make is bent and twisted into multiple angles. I particularly liked the real time events juxtaposed with the written reports, affidavits, and witness testimonies, reinforcing that while we see an event one way, everything is a matter of perspective. being nice can be misinterpreted--and generally is misinterpreted--because the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Delaney's character development proved to be quite endearing. You don't particularly like any of the characters, but you also are forced to accept that the things they're being judged by are normal things that any of us might also be judged by. What we do in our free time, the choices we make to keep order in our homes, what works for one family might not be the expected or usual norm, and to think that these can be used against us is unnerving. I found myself questioning how an outsider would view my own home, a feat, I expect, Delaney was hoping for in his expert execution of interrogations, and it's hard to root against anyone (except for one, and I won't add spoilers here). Is googling an answer about child safety indicative of abuse or a sign of good parenting? Does working through rewards and behavioral systems mean you're a bad parent? If you suffered a bout of PPD, does that mean today, you aren't capable of caring for your child? All of these very scary, relevant questions are explored. Additionally, I appreciated the inside look into legalities of parental rights. This quickly could've swayed into Lifetime movie or SVU levels of drama, but Delaney wove facts and statistics in such a way as to enhance the plot instead of wrapping the conflict in layers of melodrama. I wouldn't necessarily categorize this book as a psychological thriller, however, as most of the treachery happens outside of our purview. Murder and mayhem are more secondhand features to push the suspense and intrigue, so if you're looking for a hard-and-fast thriller, this might fall short of your expectations. However, if you love mystery, diabolical schemes, and an intense look at how psychopathy manifests in real life, this will definitely be the book for you. Thank you to Ballantine and NetGalley for providing an eARC in exchange for honest review consideration.


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