Playing for the Ashes (Inspector Lynley Series #7)

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"The story begins with my father, actually, and the fact that I'm the one who's answerable for his death. It was not my first crime, as you will see, but it is the one my mother couldn't forgive."

In her astonishing New York Times bestseller, acclaimed author Elizabeth George reveals the even darker truth behind this startling confession. Playing for the Ashes is a rich tale of passion, murder and love in which Inspector Thomas Lynley and Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers once again find themselves embroiled in ...
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Playing for the Ashes (Inspector Lynley Series #7)

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Overview

"The story begins with my father, actually, and the fact that I'm the one who's answerable for his death. It was not my first crime, as you will see, but it is the one my mother couldn't forgive."

In her astonishing New York Times bestseller, acclaimed author Elizabeth George reveals the even darker truth behind this startling confession. Playing for the Ashes is a rich tale of passion, murder and love in which Inspector Thomas Lynley and Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers once again find themselves embroiled in a case where nothing--and no one--is really what it seems. Intense, suspenseful and brilliantly written, Playing for the Ashes will make readers "search out the sleuthing pair's first six adventures...a treasure," as Cosmopolitan predicted in their review.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A perfect choice for anyone in the market for first-rate summer fiction."—The Sun, Baltimore

"Those who haven't discovered Elizabeth George ... should rush to read Playing for the Ashes."—US Magazine

"A master of the modern English mystery."—Entertainment Weekly

"Gritty and satisfying."—New Yorker

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553528312
  • Publisher: Random House Audio Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/7/2001
  • Series: Inspector Lynley Series , #7
  • Format: Cassette
  • Edition description: Abridged, 2 cassettes, 3 hrs.
  • Product dimensions: 4.44 (w) x 7.06 (h) x 0.81 (d)

Meet the Author

Elizabeth George
Elizabeth George’s first novel, A Great Deliverance, was honored with the Anthony and Agatha Best First Novel Awards and received the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière. Her third novel, Well-Schooled in Murder, was awarded the prestigious German prize for suspense fiction, the MIMI. A Suitable Vengeance, For the Sake of Elena, Missing Joseph, Playing for the Ashes, In the Presence of the Enemy, Deception on His Mind, In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner, A Traitor to Memory, and I, Richard were international bestsellers. Elizabeth George divides her time between Huntington Beach, California, and London. Her novels are currently being dramatized by the BBC.

From the Hardcover edition.

Biography

Elizabeth George was happy that her first novel was rejected.

Scratch that. She's happy now. At the time, it wasn't her best day. But the notes from her editor helped her realize that she had written the wrong book and chosen the wrong leading man. She threw out her Agatha-Christie/drawing-room-whodunit model in favor of a more modern police procedural set in the world of Scotland Yard. She promoted a minor character to her leading man, the handsome, aristocratic, Bentley-driving Thomas Lynley. And she invented a partner for him, the blue-collar, foul-mouthed, messy Barbara Havers.

"I was very lucky when the first one was rejected, because the editor explained to me why," George told the Los Angeles Times in 1999. "I had written a very Agatha Christie-esque book and she said that wasn't the way it was done. The modern crime novel doesn't have the detective call everyone into the library. It must deal with more topical crimes and the motives must be more psychological because the things you kill for are different now. Things like getting rid of a spouse who won't divorce you, or hiding an illegitimate child, or blackmail over a family scandal -- those are no longer realistic motivations."

And so, in A Great Deliverance, her first published novel, she opens with the decapitated body of a farmer, his blood-splattered daughter holding an ax, the horrified clergyman who happens on to the crime scene, and a rat feasting on the remains. Nope, not in Agatha Christie territory anymore.

George began writing as child when her mother gave her an old 1939 typewriter. When she graduated from high school, she graduated to an electric typewriter. But not until she graduated to a home computer (purchased by her husband in the 1983), did she actually try her hand at a novel. At the time, she was a schoolteacher and had been since 1974. But with the computer in front of her, she has said, it was put-up-or-shut-up time. She finished her first manuscript in 1983. But her first book wasn't published for five more years.

Though the Lynley/Havers novels are set in England -- as are the tales in her first book of short stories, 2002's I, Richard -- George is a Yank, born in Ohio and raised in Southern California. Maintaining a flat in London's South Kensington as a home base for research, George has been an Anglophile since a trip as a teenager to the United Kingdom, where she ultimately found that a British setting better served the fiction that she wanted to write. "The English tradition offers the great tapestry novel," she told Publishers Weekly in 1996, "where you have the emotional aspect of a detective's personal life, the circumstances of the crime and, most important, the atmosphere of the English countryside that functions as another character."

Readers have made her books standard features on the bestseller lists, and critics have noted the psychologically deft motives of her characters and her detailed, well-researched plotting. "A behemoth, staggering in depth and breadth, A Traitor to Memory leaves you simultaneously satisfied and longing for more. It's simply a supreme pleasure to spend time engrossed in this intense, well-written novel," the Miami Herald said in 2001. The Washington Post called 1990's Well-Schooled in Murder " a bewitching book, exasperatingly clever, and with a complex plot that must be peeled layer by layer like an onion." The Los Angeles Times once called her "the California author who does Britain as well as P.D. James." And in 1996, Entertainment Weekly placed George's eighth novel, In the Presence of the Enemy in their fiction top ten list of the year, where she kept company with John Updike, Frank McCourt, Stephen King, and Jon Krakauer.

In her mind, each book begins with the killer, the victim and the motive. She travels to London and stays at her flat there to research locales. And she writes long profiles about what drives her characters psychologically. The kick for the reader isn't necessarily whodunit but why they dun it.

"I don't mind if they know who the killer is," she has said. "I'm happy to surprise them with the psychology behind the crime. I'm interested in the dark side of man. I'm interested in taboos, and murder is the greatest taboo. Characters are fascinating in their extremity not in their happiness."

Good To Know

The original model for Lynley was Nigel Havers, the nobleman and hurdle-jumper in the film Chariots of Fire whose butler placed champagne flutes on the hurdles to keep him from knocking them over. She named Barbara Havers as an homage to the actor.

On page 900 of the rough draft for Deception on His Mind, George changed her mind about the identity of the killer.

George's ex-husband is her business manager.

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    1. Hometown:
      Seattle, Washington
    1. Date of Birth:
      February 26, 1949
    2. Place of Birth:
      Warren, Ohio
    1. Education:
      A.A. Foothill Community College, 1969; B.A. University of California, Riverside, 1970; M.S. California State University
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

It was shortly after noon when Detective Inspector Isabelle Ardery first saw Celandine Cottage. The sun was high in the sky, casting small pools of shadow at the base of the fir trees that lined the drive. This had been sealed off with yellow police tape. One panda car, a red Sierra, and a blue and white milk-float were lined up on the lane.

She parked behind the milk-float and surveyed the area, feeling grim despite her initial pleasure at being called out on another case so soon. For information gathering,the location didn't look promising. There were several houses farther along the lane, timber-framed with peg-tiled roofs like the cottage in which the fire had occurred, but they were each surrounded with enough land to give them quiet and privacy. So if the fire in question turned out to be arson—as was suggested by the words questionable ignition scrawled at the bottom of the note Ardery had received from her chief constable not an hour ago—it might prove unlikely that any of the neighbours had heard or seen someone or something suspicious.

With her collection kit in hand, she ducked under the tape and swung open the gate at the end of the drive. Across a paddock to the east where a bay mare was grazing, half a dozen onlookers leaned against a split chestnut fence. She could hear their murmured speculation as she walked up the drive. Yes, indeed, she told them mentally as she passed through a smaller gate into the garden, a woman investigator, even for a fire. Welcome to the waning years of our century.

"Inspector Ardery?" It was a female voice. Isabelle turned to see another woman waiting on the brick path that led in two directions: to thefront door and round towards the back of the house. She'd apparently come from this latter direction. "DS Coffman," she said cheerfully. "Greater Springburn CID."

Isabelle joined her. She offered her hand.

Coffman said, "The guv's not here at the moment. He rode with the body to Pembury Hospital."

Isabelle frowned at this oddity. Greater Springburn's chief superintendent had been the one to request her presence in the first place. It was a breach of police etiquette for him to leave the site before her arrival. "The hospital?" she asked. "Have you no medical examiner to accompany the
body?"

Coffman gave her eyes a quick rise heavenward. "Oh, he was here as well, graciously assuring us that the corpse was dead. But there's to be a news conference when they i.d. the victim, and the guv loves that stuff. Give him a microphone, five minutes of your time, and he does a fairly decent John Thaw."

"Who's still here, then?"

"Couple of probationary DCs getting their first chance to suss things out. And the bloke who discovered the mess. Snell, he's called."

"What about the fire brigade?"

"They've been and gone. Snell phoned emergency from next door, house across from the spring. Emergency sent the fire team."

"And?"

Coffman smiled. "Luck for your side. Once they got in, they could see the fire'd been out for hours. They didn't touch a thing. They just phoned CID and waited till we got here."

That fact, at least, was a blessing. One of the biggest difficulties in arson investigation was the necessary existence of the fire brigade. They were trained to two tasks: saving lives and extinguishing fires. Intent upon that, more often than not they axed down doors, flooded rooms, collapsed ceilings, and in the process obliterated evidence.

Isabelle ran her gaze over the building. She said, "All right. I'll take a moment out here, first."

"Shall I—"

"Alone, please."

Coffman said, "Quite. I'll leave you to it," and strode off towards the back of the house. She paused at the northeast corner of the building, turning back and pushing a curl of oak-coloured hair from her face. ""The hot spot's this way when you're ready," she said. She began to raise an index finger in comradely salute, apparently thought better of it, and disappeared round the side of the house.

Isabelle stepped off the brick path and crossed the lawn, walking to the far corner of the property. There she turned back and gazed first at the cottage and then at the grounds that surrounded it.

If arson had been committed here, finding evidence outside the building wasn't going to be easy. It would take hours to conduct a search on the grounds because Celandine Cottage was an amateur gardener's dream: hung on the south end by wisteria just coming into bloom, surrounded by flower beds from which grew everything from forget-me-nots to heather, from white violets to lavender, from pansies to tulips. Where there weren't flower-beds, there was lawn, thick and lush. Where there wasn't lawn, there were shrubs in bloom. Where there weren't shrubs, there were trees. These lastprovided a partial screen from the lane and another from the nearest neighbour. If there were footprints, tyre prints, discarded tools, fuel containers, or matchbooks, it was going to take some effort to find them.

Isabelle circled the house carefully, moving east to northwest. She examined windows. She scanned the ground. She gave her attention to roof and to doors. In the end, she made her way to the back where the kitchen door stood open and where, under an arbour across which a grapevine was beginning to unfurl its leaves, a middle-aged man sat at a wicker table, with his head sunk into his chest and his hands pressed together between his knees. A glass of water stood, untouched, before him.

"Mr. Snell?"

The man lifted his head. "Took the body, they did," he said. "She was covered up all from head to toe. She was wrapped up and tied down. It looked like they'd put her in some sort of bag. It's not proper, that, is it? It's not quite decent. It's not even respectful."

Isabelle joined him, pulling out a chair and setting her collection kit on the concrete. She felt an instant's duty to comfort him, but making an effort at compassion seemed pointless. Dead was dead no matter what anyone said or did. Nothing changed that fact for the living. "Mr. Snell, were the doors locked or unlocked when you arrived?"

"I tried to get in when she didn't answer. But I couldn't. So I looked in the window." He squeezed his hands together and took a tremulous breath. "She wouldn't have suffered, would she? I heard one of them say the body wasn't even burnt and that's why they could tell who it was straightaway. Did she die from the smoke, then?"

"We won't know anything for certain until a postmortem is done," DS Coffman said. She'd come to the doorway. Her answer sounded professionally cautious.

The man seemed to accept it. He said, "What about them kittens?"

"Kittens?" Isabelle asked.

"Miss Gabriella's kittens. Where're they? No one's brought them
out."

Coffman said, "They must be outside somewhere. We've not run across them in the house."

"But she got herself two little 'uns last week. Two kittens. From over by the spring. Someone'd dumped them in a cardboard box next to the footpath. She brought them home. She was caring for them. They slept in the kitchen in their own little basket and—" Snell wiped the back of his wrist against his eyes. "I got to see to the milk delivery. Before it goes bad."

"Have you got his statement?" Isabelle asked Coffman as she ducked beneath the low lintel of the doorway to join the DS in the kitchen.

"For what it's worth. Thought you might want to have a chat with him yourself. Shall I send him off?"

"If we've got his address."

"Right. I'll see to it. We're in through there." Coffman gestured towards an inner door. Beyond it, Isabelle could see the curve of a dining table and the end of a wall-sized fireplace.

"Who's been inside?"

"Three blokes from the fire brigade. The CID lot."

"Crime team?"

"Just the photographer and the pathologist. I thought it best to keep the rest out till you had a look.


From the Audio Cassette edition.

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Table of Contents

Read More Show Less

First Chapter

It was shortly after noon when Detective Inspector Isabelle Ardery first saw Celandine Cottage. The sun was high in the sky, casting small pools of shadow at the base of the fir trees that lined the drive. This had been sealed off with yellow police tape. One panda car, a red Sierra, and a blue and white milk-float were lined up on the lane.

She parked behind the milk-float and surveyed the area, feeling grim despite her initial pleasure at being called out on another case so soon. For information gathering, the location didn't look promising. There were several houses farther along the lane, timber-framed with peg-tiled roofs like the cottage in which the fire had occurred, but they were each surrounded with enough land to give them quiet and privacy. So if the fire in question turned out to be arson--as was suggested by the words questionable ignition scrawled at the bottom of the note Ardery had received from her chief constable not an hour ago--it might prove unlikely that any of the neighbours had heard or seen someone or something suspicious.

With her collection kit in hand, she ducked under the tape and swung open the gate at the end of the drive. Across a paddock to the east where a bay mare was grazing, half a dozen onlookers leaned against a split chestnut fence. She could hear their murmured speculation as she walked up the drive. Yes, indeed, she told them mentally as she passed through a smaller gate into the garden, a woman investigator, even for a fire. Welcome to the waning years of our century.

"Inspector Ardery?" It was a female voice. Isabelle turned to see another woman waiting on the brick path that led in two directions: to the frontdoor and round towards the back of the house. She'd apparently come from this latter direction. "DS Coffman," she said cheerfully. "Greater Springburn CID."

Isabelle joined her. She offered her hand.

Coffman said, "The guv's not here at the moment. He rode with the body to Pembury Hospital."

Isabelle frowned at this oddity. Greater Springburn's chief superintendent had been the one to request her presence in the first place. It was a breach of police etiquette for him to leave the site before her arrival. "The hospital?" she asked. "Have you no medical examiner to accompany the
body?"

Coffman gave her eyes a quick rise heavenward. "Oh, he was here as well, graciously assuring us that the corpse was dead. But there's to be a news conference when they i.d. the victim, and the guv loves that stuff. Give him a microphone, five minutes of your time, and he does a fairly decent John Thaw."

"Who's still here, then?"

"Couple of probationary DCs getting their first chance to suss things out. And the bloke who discovered the mess. Snell, he's called."

"What about the fire brigade?"

"They've been and gone. Snell phoned emergency from next door, house across from the spring. Emergency sent the fire team."

"And?"

Coffman smiled. "Luck for your side. Once they got in, they could see the fire'd been out for hours. They didn't touch a thing. They just phoned CID and waited till we got here."

That fact, at least, was a blessing. One of the biggest difficulties in arson investigation was the necessary existence of the fire brigade. They were trained to two tasks: saving lives and extinguishing fires. Intent upon that, more often than not they axed down doors, flooded rooms, collapsed ceilings, and in the process obliterated evidence.

Isabelle ran her gaze over the building. She said, "All right. I'll take a moment out here, first."

"Shall I --"

"Alone, please."

Coffman said, "Quite. I'll leave you to it," and strode off towards the back of the house. She paused at the northeast corner of the building, turning back and pushing a curl of oak-coloured hair from her face. ""The hot spot's this way when you're ready," she said. She began to raise an index finger in comradely salute, apparently thought better of it, and disappeared round the side of the house.

Isabelle stepped off the brick path and crossed the lawn, walking to the far corner of the property. There she turned back and gazed first at the cottage and then at the grounds that surrounded it.

If arson had been committed here, finding evidence outside the building wasn't going to be easy. It would take hours to conduct a search on the grounds because Celandine Cottage was an amateur gardener's dream: hung on the south end by wisteria just coming into bloom, surrounded by flower beds from which grew everything from forget-me-nots to heather, from white violets to lavender, from pansies to tulips. Where there weren't flower-beds, there was lawn, thick and lush. Where there wasn't lawn, there were shrubs in bloom. Where there weren't shrubs, there were trees. These lastprovided a partial screen from the lane and another from the nearest neighbour. If there were footprints, tyre prints, discarded tools, fuel containers, or matchbooks, it was going to take some effort to find them.

Isabelle circled the house carefully, moving east to northwest. She examined windows. She scanned the ground. She gave her attention to roof and to doors. In the end, she made her way to the back where the kitchen door stood open and where, under an arbour across which a grapevine was beginning to unfurl its leaves, a middle-aged man sat at a wicker table, with his head sunk into his chest and his hands pressed together between his knees. A glass of water stood, untouched, before him.

"Mr. Snell?"

The man lifted his head. "Took the body, they did," he said. "She was covered up all from head to toe. She was wrapped up and tied down. It looked like they'd put her in some sort of bag. It's not proper, that, is it? It's not quite decent. It's not even respectful."

Isabelle joined him, pulling out a chair and setting her collection kit on the concrete. She felt an instant's duty to comfort him, but making an effort at compassion seemed pointless. Dead was dead no matter what anyone said or did. Nothing changed that fact for the living. "Mr. Snell, were the doors locked or unlocked when you arrived?"

"I tried to get in when she didn't answer. But I couldn't. So I looked in the window." He squeezed his hands together and took a tremulous breath. "She wouldn't have suffered, would she? I heard one of them say the body wasn't even burnt and that's why they could tell who it was straightaway. Did she die from the smoke, then?"

"We won't know anything for certain until a postmortem is done," DS Coffman said. She'd come to the doorway. Her answer sounded professionally cautious.

The man seemed to accept it. He said, "What about them kittens?"

"Kittens?" Isabelle asked.

"Miss Gabriella's kittens. Where're they? No one's brought them
out."

Coffman said, "They must be outside somewhere. We've not run across them in the house."

"But she got herself two little 'uns last week. Two kittens. From over by the spring. Someone'd dumped them in a cardboard box next to the footpath. She brought them home. She was caring for them. They slept in the kitchen in their own little basket and--" Snell wiped the back of his wrist against his eyes. "I got to see to the milk delivery. Before it goes bad."

"Have you got his statement?" Isabelle asked Coffman as she ducked beneath the low lintel of the doorway to join the DS in the kitchen.

"For what it's worth. Thought you might want to have a chat with him yourself. Shall I send him off?"

"If we've got his address."

"Right. I'll see to it. We're in through there." Coffman gestured towards an inner door. Beyond it, Isabelle could see the curve of a dining table and the end of a wall-sized fireplace.

"Who's been inside?"

"Three blokes from the fire brigade. The CID lot."

"Crime team?"

"Just the photographer and the pathologist. I thought it best to keep the rest out till you had a look.
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 27 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(14)

4 Star

(9)

3 Star

(3)

2 Star

(1)

1 Star

(0)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 27 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 10, 2011

    Outstanding! An excellent read!

    George shows her versatility and her mastery of technique here. Her use of both first and third person adds much to the suspense and keeps the reader interested as the story unfolds. Complex characters reveal their secrets as their lives converge in an exciting conclusion. Compelling, sad, ironic, and well-written.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 3, 2002

    George Smolders in PLAYING FOR THE ASHES

    The seemingly perfect life of a sensational cricket player has been cut short. But was it REALLY perfect? Sophisticated Inspector Lynley and his rough-edged sidekick Havers discover all the hows and whys in Elizabeth George's PLAYING FOR THE ASHES. Should the athlete have left his wife? Could his teenaged son be involved? Did his mistress cause his death or was it her husband? And what part did his former teacher play, a woman who had been championing him since he was a young man? George keeps us guessing with style, presenting suspect after suspect and discarding them. Played out against the usual backdrop of Great Britain's social contrasts, PLAYING FOR ASHES offers an entertaining, if somewhat lengthy, read. The returning characters of the butler Denton, Lady Helen, and the entire crew at New Scotland Yard are touched upon less frequently than usual. Denton, in particular, seems to be included more for comic effect this time around. George's technique of interspersing first person 'journal' entries from the character Olivia, a sad and depressing former prostitute, really did not add to the book. Inspite of this, I recommend PLAYING FOR ASHES as an interesting portrait of love and failure.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 29, 2006

    THE BEST

    I had to write this although I read this book a few years ago. I disagree with the other review in that the diary format was very readable and many scenes I still remember vividly

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 6, 2001

    A Fantastic Finale

    I consider this one the best in the Lynley-Havers mysteries. It's like reading two different stories, with the connection being made in the dramatic finale. Although the mother-daughter love-hate relation is a bit extreme ... the characters are very well developed and I could sympathize with both of them

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted May 8, 2013

    An intricate, tangle of peoples lives; lifelike and easy to read

    An intricate, tangle of peoples lives; lifelike and easy to read. What a great mystery this was. I was apprehensive because of some of the reviews I read. However, Ms. George makes it sooooo interesting I couldn't put it down!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 25, 2013

    one of her best.

    George goes beyond her usual excellence in this one. Parallel stories are handled with dexterity and aplomb. Yet she never losses or dilutes the theme.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted July 4, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Too confusing to finish

    I enjoyed the Lynley series on PBS very much. But, could not read this book. It was confusing, dry and dragged on forever. By the time Lynley and Havers was introduce I was tired of struggling with reading this book, I lost interest and gave up. Ms. George style of writing was too hard to grasp even with the explanations she felt was needed for American reader to understand the book. Maybe if it was presented in a different way, the reader could get through the book.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 15, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 17, 2010

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