Elizabeth George

A Great Deliverance

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A Great Deliverance Summary

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A Great Deliverance (1988) is the first novel by mystery and crime author Elizabeth George. The novel follows Inspector Thomas Lynley and Sergeant Barbara Havers as they investigate the murder of William Teys, who was found beheaded on the Yorkshire Moors. As the investigators get wrapped up in the murder, dark family secrets are unearthed, and the culpability of Teys’ youngest daughter Roberta, who confessed to the beheading, becomes more and more unclear.

The book opens with Inspector Lynley in Keldale, a rural village in the untamed northern Yorkshire Moors. He has been called in as a Scotland Yard investigator to discover the killer of William Teys, a farmer whose body was found decapitated in the village. Lynley is a handsome, wealthy inspector with an aristocratic title—he is also known as the eighth earl of Asherton. Much of his success comes from his quick wit and charm, qualities his partner on the case, Sergeant Barbara Havers, finds detestable.

When the book begins, Sergeant Havers has been recently demoted because of her bad attitude and difficulty working with others. This murder investigation is a kind of probation for her. If she successfully helps Lynley, she’ll have the chance to be instated into the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) of the British Police. Unlike Lynley, Havers grew up in a working-class neighborhood, and now cares for her sick and aging parents, which strains her both mentally and financially. She is motivated to solve the crime because a promotion to the CID would mean a ticket out of poverty and into the kind of life she dreams of. The class differences between Lynley and Havers are noticeable, and are a primary cause of Havers’ resentment of her partner.

At first, the murder seems easy to solve. The victim’s youngest daughter, Roberta, was found beside the body of her decapitated father, wearing a formal dress. When the police arrived, Roberta confessed to her father’s murder and was subsequently sent to a mental institution by her cousin, Richard Gibson. Richard is the heir to William’s farm, and thus takes responsibility for Roberta’s care.

The local priest, however, is not convinced of Roberta’s guilt. Father Hart is a nervous man, but seems trustworthy. When he talks with the police, he casts doubt on Roberta’s motive and her ability to commit premeditated murder. This doubt is enough to cause Havers and Lynley to question the confession.

As the investigation continues, strange family details are slowly unearthed. Though William was a well-liked and respectable member of the community, everyone has always thought it odd that his younger wife Tessa abandoned him with his two girls, Roberta and Gillian, years before. Later, when Gillian was sixteen, she too disappeared without a trace. William claimed she ran away from home, and was left to take care of Roberta alone.

Though the town of Keldale initially seems empty, when Lynley and Havers check into Keldale Hall, an old manor that has been converted into a hotel by eccentric owner Mrs. Burton-Thomas, they discover that Keldale is full of bizarre characters. Besides the hotel proprietress and the chain-smoking, nervous priest, there is the jealous, handsome artist Ezra Farmington; the snooty organist Nigel; and a modelesque young girl named Stepha Odell, who knows more about the murder than she should, given her apparent distance from the crime. The town’s folklore also comes into play when an infant ghost starts wailing in historic Keldale Abbey and local American tourists provide information about the baby’s haunting and untimely death.

Ultimately, the investigation unfolds secrets about a child-bride, rape, infanticide, grief, and a woman’s manipulation of two lovers. By the end of the novel, nearly everyone in Keldale has been linked to William’s murder in some way or another, and nobody seems to live without a horde of horrifying, startling secrets.

A Great Deliverance won the Agatha and Anthony Awards for best first novel, and was nominated for Macavity and Edgar Awards. The book was also optioned for television by the BBC. Since writing A Great Deliverance, George has published nineteen novels featuring Inspector Thomas Lynley, seven other fiction novels, and one book of nonfiction called Write Away, which includes George’s advice for writers.