In this compelling story of passion and betrayal, a young cricket player, Kenneth Fleming, is found dead in an English cottage, the victim of arson. The author's narration alternates with that of Olivia Whitelaw, a former prostitute slowly wasting away from Lou Gehrig's disease, who scrawls her bitter thoughts onto a legal pad, trying to make sense of her "dreary shambles of lives and loves." Her estranged schoolteacher mother, Miriam, was the patron of the young Fleming; by pulling himself out of the lower class to become a cricket star, Fleming, Olivia notes, had become "possibility personified" for Miriam.
The author's moral compass, detective inspector Thomas Lynley, joins with his grumpy and beleaguered sergeant Barbara Havers to investigate the many suspects, including Fleming's flighty lover, his distraught ex-wife, the possessive Miriam and jealous Olivia. The crime is solved, but solution does not mean resolution. Only George, with her remarkable talent for exploring the harshest aberrations of the heart, could make Ashes such an infinitely engrossing story. (Bantam, $21.95)