Book review – Playing for the Ashes by Elizabeth George

Playing for the AshesWhen a body is found dead in Celandine Cottage in Greater Springburn, the initial thought is that the body is that of the resident of the cottage, Gabriella Patten. When it is discovered that the body is, in fact, Kenneth Fleming, England’s star batsman, Inspector Lynley and Detective Sergeant Havers are called in to help the local police with their inquiries. With too many suspects to choose from and hardly any clues to go by, Lynley and Havers are facing a difficult challenge. And when a suspect is finally apprehended, and when he confesses too, the case seems closed. Except that Lynley is harbouring suspicions and he will not rest until he has uncovered the truth.

Elizabeth George takes her readers on a path of discovery. We find out who Kenneth Fleming was and how he touched the lives of everyone around him. We get several different points of view of the people who had some sort of relationship with Kenneth. Slowly we discover what type of person Kenneth was and how the people closest to him felt about him.

Interspersed with the story of Kenneth and those close to him is the story of Olivia, who writes her parts in the form of a journal, or letter, as we later find out. It is not immediately obvious who Olivia is and how she fits into the larger scheme. Her story is quite an unpleasant one, and it is not until the end that it becomes clear who she is writing to and to what purpose she writes down her life story.

Elizabeth George is a master at weaving a web of relationships, of causes and effects and of the way different lives connect. I am usually not enamored by many different points of view. Very few authors can pull it off effectively, leaving the reader with the feeling that he or she is being pulled in every direction, unable to connect with any of the characters in the story. Not so with Elizabeth George. She gives each character their unique voice, and enough time to draw the reader into their story. Through all of it runs the story of Lynley and Havers, the thread that connects them all. Although this book is one in a series featuring Inspector Lynley, the personal life of Lynley is but a very small part of the book. That is true for each book in this series. It is entirely possible to read them out of order and still be able to follow what is going on. I very much like that; too often authors get carried away with their main characters, drawing the focus away from matters at hand (often a mystery) and focusing instead on their personal lives.

I did not like the parts that were written from the point of view of Olivia. Not because they were not well written, but because I thoroughly disliked Olivia. I think (at least, I hope) that this was the intention of the author. Olivia is not completely repulsive; there are some redeeming qualities about her, but not many. And when she is finally in a position to do the right thing, she instead presents Inspector Lynley with a very difficult choice. Luckily for all of us, Lynley does the right thing in the end.

I can definitely recommend this book – and any other written by Elizabeth George. They are thick books, but well worth it.

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