My rating: 3 of 5 stars
If author Linda Gould isn’t an avid baseball fan, she covers it well, for her descriptions of plays, players, locker rooms, owner’s suites and game-time tension in Let’s Play Ball will easily take readers out to the ball game. But the games between the Washington Filibusters and the Florida Keys feature more than pitchers’ duels and homeruns. A conspiracy is brewing during the game that will decide the National League championship. Fraternal twins Miranda and Jessica are at the stadium, Miranda as a guest in one of the owner’s suites and Jessica to cover the came for her sports magazine. Jessica’s fiancé, Manual Chavez is at the game, too. He’s the Filibusters right fielder.
The highly competitive sisters snipe at each other during the game. Perhaps Jessica is envious of Miranda’s marriage and her high-paying career as a budget analyst for a government agency. Perhaps Miranda is jealous of Jessica’s high-profile job and her engagement to a handsome baseball star with an exciting past in Cuba. After the game, while the teams are in their locker rooms, Manual is the victim of a crime. As the true scope of this crime looms larger and larger in the days that follow, logic might suggest that the sisters should work together, to support each other and help the police find out who’s behind the outrage.
Instead, Gould ramps up the tension with twins who become openly hostile. Miranda’s marriage to Tommy, an attorney with political ambitions, is less than perfect, so she has her own distractions. Yet, she thinks Jessica’s shock over what happened to Manuel is impairing her reporter’s instincts about the case. After all, how realistic is it to suggest that the owners of the Washington Filibusters and the Florida Keys, the President of the United States, the Cuban dictator and an assortment of baseball players and shooting range friends who are actively racist and/or promoting an invasion of Cuba were all in bed together plotting against Manual Chavez?
Jessica is convinced the police and the FBI aren’t handling the investigation properly and that everything will be swept under the rug if she doesn’t get personally involved. When Miranda urges caution, Jessica suggests that Miranda and Tommy, who both have agendas as well as skeletons in their closets, may even be involved in the conspiracy and the cover-up.
Gould’s inventive plot features feuding sisters who become tangled up with baseball strategies, high-profile officials and international politics. Jessica thinks criminals lurk in every shadow. She follows real and imagined leads with a vengeance. Ultimately, when she goes on bed rest because of her pregnancy, she must ask Miranda to help uncover the secrets behind the crime. This forces Miranda to risk her well-paying job and step outside her comfort zone.
However, the novel’s potentially taut pacing bogs down, in part by the insertion of back story information during the police investigation to cover the twins past history and partly because the conspiracy’s probable ringleaders are outside the sisters’ amateur investigative reach. Without the authority or resources for confronting government officials or engaging in private undercover operations, Miranda and Jessica spend a great deal of time speculating about the involvement of major suspects while trying to maneuver the more minor suspects into making inadvertent confessions.
The action leads toward a dangerous confrontation that fittingly unfolds during another tense ballgame. Most of the suspects are near at hand with a lot more than a game to lose, and Miranda is in a position to either act with courage or to pretend the FBI will eventually figure everything out. Gould handles the resulting showdown well. But it’s not closure. Most readers will expect the novel’s next chapter to show how the feisty twins will resolve the rest of the story.
Instead, the author appends a 23-page epilogue. Since the twins are interesting characters, some readers will come away from this epilogue feeling that Miranda and Jessica have successfully navigated a major crisis as well as many crucial personal issues and can now get on with their lives. No longer in the forefront of the action required to bring the conspirators to justice in the epilogue, Miranda and Jessica are suddenly—figuratively speaking—sitting on the bench as Let’s Play Ball wraps up the fortunes of the good guys and bad guys at some distance in summary fashion well after the fact. Action-oriented readers may feel cheated when Let’s Play Ball lifts its primary characters from the game before the final inning.
Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “The Sun Singer” and “Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire.”