‘Playing for the Ashes’ is the 7th book in Elizabeth George’s Inspector Linley series and once again, George has brilliantly woven together a number of sub-plots to build this novel. The personal lives of Inspector Thomas Linley and DS Barbara Havers are only part of the story, so you don’t need to read the books in the series in order (although I prefer to do so).
The story centres around the murder of Kenneth Fleming – a star cricketer expected to be chosen for the English team when they play against Australia for the ashes. Fleming died of carbon monoxide poisoning after a fire in the Kent cottage of his lover Gabriella Patten. The fire was deliberately lit and now Gabriella is missing. No-one even knows what Fleming was doing there – he was supposed to be taking his son Jimmy to Greece for his 16th birthday.
Of the cast of characters in the novel, most of them seem to have some sort of motive for murdering Fleming. There is his promiscuous lover Gabriella Patten, her husband and a good proportion of the English cricket team who have ‘known’ Gabriella in recent years. There’s Ken’s estranged wife Jeannie who he has been with since they were 12 years old, and their three children – Jimmy, Sharon and Stan. There is Miriam Whitelaw who has encouraged and supported Ken since his school days. He now lives in her house and although she is 30 years older than him, no-one is sure of their relationship. There is Miriam’s estranged daughter Olivia – a wild child who has been brought back to earth through tragic circumstances, and her friend Chris Faraday who now looks after her.
Linley and Havers investigate the death while struggling through their own personal lives. Will Lady Helen Clyde agree to marry Linley? Havers is friendless and alone trying to settle into her new home after putting her mother into care.
A lot of the novel is presented as Olivia Whitelaw’s personal journal, which I found captivating. It is not until the end of the novel that we find out the purpose of this journal.
This is one of my favourite Linley novels so far. The characters were well drawn and I found myself loving and hating them intensely. I’m looking forward to the next in the series – ‘In the Presence of the Enemy’ for another great crime and a good dose of the Linley and Havers sagas.
Book Published 1994