Playing for the Ashes

Playing for the Ashes - Elizabeth  George I thought this one was an improvement over Missing Joseph, the last entry in the Lynley Mysteries and my least favorite of the novels to date. That one barely featured my favorite character in the partnership of Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley and Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers--here she's back in form. And it's not just her presence per se I missed, I think Lynley is a better, more interesting character with her to play off of as well. I remember one scene--the "Kwai Tan" bluff by Barbara where I smiled widely thinking this is a lot of why I love this character. And for once both the personal subplots with Havers and Lynley were hopeful and positive. I was particularly charmed by Havers developing a friendship with Hadiyyah--a charming little girl, seven going on eight, who is her neighbor. The title "Playing for the Ashes" is a cricket term, and this mystery involves the murder by arson of cricket star Kenneth Fleming who rose from working class roots to play for England. Three very different women loved him and have been loved by him. There's Miriam Whitelaw, his former teacher, old enough to be his mother, who he was living with at the time of his death. There's Jean Cooper, the wife he's been separated from for years who still hopes she can get back his love. And there's Gabrielle Patten, his lover and wife of the team sponsor. It's these women, and those connected with them--Miriam's daughter, Jean's son, Gabrielle's lovers and husband--who hold the key to his death. In a departure from George's usual style, the third person narrative is punctuated throughout with chapters in first person from the point of view of Olivia Whitelaw, the daughter of Miriam. Like one reviewer, I found this off-putting, especially since this begins the book and I found I greatly disliked Olivia. That never changed, even if I did find myself having sympathy for her by the end. I also noted this novel in the series overindulged in crude language. I'm no prude, and I don't usually even notice the use of obscenities, but in this case I felt a bit assaulted by their use. I also felt the Olivia chapters, and other scenes not involving the two detectives, were overlong and by and large an unnecessary drag on the narrative. The first Lynley mysteries, such as the first, A Great Deliverance were not much longer than 400 pages. This one was close to 700 pages. I worry George is succumbing to the problem you see in successful, and thus unedited, authors such as Tom Clancy and Stephen King, where their novels become bloated. I did enjoy this book though, enough to read more of the series.