Desert Isle Keeper
For the sake of being completely transparent, I have to start this review off by saying that I’ve had a hard time buying into the wild plots of some of J.P. Delaney’s previous novels. I read psychological thrillers for pure escapism, but Mr. Delaney’s brand of over-the-top writing hasn’t always worked for me. With Playing Nice however, he’s at the top of his game, and if his future books are anything like this one, I’ll be a devoted fan forever.
Pete and his partner Maddie haven’t always had an easy time settling into life as parents. After their son Theo was born, he spent weeks in intensive care, and Maddie struggled to bond with him. Once Theo came home, Maddie dealt with some postpartum psychosis, further distancing her from her young son. Now though, two years later, things have settled down. Maddie works a full-time job while Pete stays home to care for Theo. Everyone is relatively happy and healthy, and it seems like the difficulties the family experienced immediately following Theo’s birth really are a thing of the past.
All of that changes when a stranger shows up on Pete’s doorstep one morning while Theo is at daycare. Miles Lambert explains that Theo isn’t Maddie and Pete’s son at all. Instead, David, the little boy being raised by Miles and his wife Lucy is actually Pete and Maddie’s child. The two infants, born on the same day and admitted into the intensive care unit at roughly the same time, were accidentally swapped by a busy and understaffed group of nurses. Miles explains he and Lucy have only recently discovered the switch, but haven’t made any firm decisions on how to proceed. It is suggested that the two couples meet up to discuss the complex situation in a friendly and reasonable matter.
As one would expect, both Pete and Maddie are deeply shocked by Miles’ revelation, and yet, there’s a part of Maddie that wonders if this is why she and Theo aren’t as close as she would like them to be, and if maybe something inside her knew the truth all along. She and Pete eventually agree to spend time with the Lamberts and come up with a plan to move forward in a way that will benefit them all.
At first, things seem to be progressing smoothly. Both couples love the children they’ve been raising, and there initially doesn’t seem to be anything to be gained from swapping them back to their biological families. However, as time passes and the Lamberts become ever more involved in their lives, Pete and Maddie begin to wonder if they’ve made a terrible mistake. Suddenly, everything they do seems to anger Miles, and things take a dangerous turn.
This is an extremely fast-paced story. I started reading at just after ten at night and I didn’t put the book down until I reached the end at just past four in the morning. It’s a story that will have you catching your breath in shock more than once, and you’ll definitely have a hard time guessing what the author has in store for these characters next. No one is quite who they pretend to be, so take absolutely nothing you read at face value.
The story is told in alternating chapters from both Pete’s and Maddie’s perspectives, and there are court transcripts sprinkled throughout which add an additional layer of intrigue to an already complicated tale, as they provide some insight into the troubled mind of Miles Lambert, insight Pete and Maddie don’t necessarily have on their own. The reader will learn a few things ahead of the characters, something I don’t usually like, but I actually didn’t mind it here. It helped keep my interest thoroughly piqued.
Not every aspect of the story feels one-hundred percent authentic, but I think that’s par for the course when it comes to these types of books. Ordinary people are placed in truly extraordinary circumstances, and the ways in which they react aren’t expected to be totally realistic. After all, part of the appeal comes from the desperate actions the characters take to achieve their goals, so just suspend your disbelief and enjoy the ride. I found Playing Nice wildly satisfying, a perfect way to spend a sleepless summer night.