Playing Nice by JP Delaney: An enthralling masterclass in character development and suspense - book review -

It’s every parent’s worst nightmare… A knock at the door and there stands a stranger claiming that the child you have cherished for two years isn’t yours

Wednesday, 2nd September 2020, 3:45 pm
Playing Nice
Playing Nice

It’s every parent’s worst nightmare…

A knock at the door and there stands a stranger claiming that the child you have cherished for two years isn’t yours. There was a mix-up at the hospital and two mothers left for home with the wrong babies.

There’s nothing quite like a baby switch mystery to get readers hooked, but this nail-biting, thought-provoking and utterly riveting thriller comes from a writer who never fails to put that extra mind-bending firepower into every story that comes from his magic pen.

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JP Delaney – an author who has penned fiction under other names – created waves in 2018 with The Girl Before, a blistering page-turner which featured a mesmerising exploration of obsession and deceit.

The book was a runaway bestseller for Delaney and was followed by Believe Me and The Perfect Wife, two more sensational psychological thrillers full of ingenious twists and turns. And now he sets his sharp eye and dazzling writing skills on a baby swap story which melds domestic suspense with a slow-burn, terrifying menace.

Freelance journalist Pete Riley from Willesden Green in London has opted to be the stay-at-home dad to two-year-old son Theo while his partner Maddie, who works in advertising and had a traumatic birth, pursues her career.

Their lives are pretty uneventful until he answers the door one morning and lets in a nightmare. On his doorstep is Miles Lambert, a stranger who breaks the devastating news that Theo isn’t actually his son.

A DNA test has shown that Theo is the son of Miles and Lucy Lambert, a well-heeled couple who live in upmarket Highgate. The babies – both born prematurely – were switched at birth by an understaffed hospital and Pete and Maddie’s real son, David, was sent home with the Lamberts.

For Pete (who thinks that love trumps paternity and genetics) and Maddie (who guiltily recalls that she found it difficult to bond with Theo), life will never be the same again, but the two families agree that rather than swap the boys back, they will try to find a more flexible way to share their children’s lives.

Taking comfort in their shared good intentions to be ‘civilised’ about it, the four adults try to entwine their very different lives in the hope of becoming one unconventional modern family, but a plan to sue the hospital triggers an official investigation that unearths some disturbing questions about the night their babies were switched.

And when Theo is thrown out of nursery for hitting other children, Maddie and Pete have to ask themselves how far they want this arrangement to go. How much can they trust the real parents of their child, or even each other, and what secrets lie hidden behind the Lamberts’ glossy front door?

Pete and Maddie soon discover they will each stop at nothing to keep their family safe…they are done playing nice.

It turns out that everyone has secrets in this gripping, probing and addictive exploration of just how far a parent will go to keep their child safe, as a dual narrative – alternating seamlessly between Pete and Maddie, and including flashbacks to the past – exposes disturbing revelations on both sides of the warring families.

Fascinating, timeless issues around parenting, and nature versus nurture, inevitably come into focus as the tension ratchets up and Pete and Maddie are stretched to an electrifying breaking point which takes us deep into a minefield of murder, lies, abuse and betrayal.

Delaney never disappoints and Playing Nice is an enthralling masterclass in character development and suspense. His creation here is a truly unsettling world where suspicions abound, danger lurks round every corner, and emotional power bleeds from the pages as hearts are broken and battle lines drawn.

Expect a shocking finale that will blow your socks off… and then start looking forward to what this exciting author is planning for us next!

(Quercus, hardback, £12.99)