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Play Nice (Anna Smith and Nick Dade Mysteries) by Gemma Halliday
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312656072
Date: 13 March 2012 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

Fifteen years ago, Anya Danielovich assassinated her 24th target; then she faked her own death. Now, she's Anna Smith, a professional dog walker in San Francisco. Anna wants to forget her past, but there are those who won't let her. Nick Dade has been hired to assassinate her but has a change of heart upon learning someone else wants her dead. Together, Anna and Nick must battle evil men in order to save their own lives and thwart a catastrophe that could alter the course of American history.

Ever since Bridget Fonda starred in the hit thriller Point of No Return, Americans sympathize with assassins who wish to break free from the murderous lives into which they have been forced. Americans also find assassins funny and sexy as evidenced by such romantic comedies as Killers, Knight and Day and, one of my favorites, Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Originally, I feared that Gemma Halliday's Play Nice would be another clichéd entry in a market that was already saturated with romantic suspense involving assassins. I was sorely mistaken.

Play Nice is a fast-paced, easy-to-read thriller that touched my heart. Anna represents all of us who yearn for a new life, whether it is to escape an abusive spouse, embark on a new career, or move to a foreign country. Sometimes, however, our past always remains a step behind us. For example, it can be difficult to escape an abusive spouse if one shares a child with them. In Play Nice, we have two assassins who are both trying to escape. Together, they rely on each other to escape their old selves while trying to escape their would-be assassins. Once again, the hunter learns what it is truly like to be the hunted.

Having been a book reviewer for The Chesapeake Romance Writers for several years, I learned that romance novels have a predictable formula that they follow. Play Nice definitely follows that formula from the first chapter to the last. (In the first chapter, girl meets boy; throughout the novel, a conflict keeps them apart; and, in the end, there is resolution that brings them together forever, supposedly.) However, Play Nice has quite a few surprises, most of them involving bloody violence, that are guaranteed to keep mystery fans entertained.

Trust, or a lack of trust, seems to be a recurrent theme. Naturally, a hit woman and a hit man find it difficult to trust one another. In their profession, trusting a stranger can be detrimental. However, a relationship is bound to fail if there is a lack of trust. Poor Anna finds herself constantly betrayed by those around her. Welcome to the workforce Anna. Some of my coworkers would slit my throat if they thought they'd get a promotion. Money (or the lust for money) is a strong motivational force.

Halliday takes the reader on a tour of her beautiful hometown of San Francisco. From the bay tours of Pier 39 to the chocolate shops of Ghirardelli Square, Anna and Nick are constantly running from one tourist attraction to another as they search for clues as to who is trying to kill them and why. In lieu of a small child, we have a cute boxer named Lenny for the "adorable factor". Rapid gunfire, fiery explosions and scenes of mass panic will ensure that gore-hounds and the NRA will enjoy Halliday's novel as well as the cozy, tea party crowd.

Play Nice brought back nice memories of when I reviewed books for the Chesapeake Romance Writers Association. It is highly recommended for fans of romantic suspense. Perhaps reading it will provide motivation to those who wish to dramatically change their lives or those who simply want to step out on a limb like Gemma Halliday did when she wrote it. Play Nice is recommended for those women, and some men, who fantasize about bad boys: the bank robber who takes you hostage, the escaped convict who falls unconscious in your yard with a bullet wound, or the jewel thief who decides to steal your heart rather than your diamond necklace.

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