Elizabeth George's A Great Deliverance

Few mystery writers have burst upon the literary scene the way that Elizabeth George has done. Her first novel, A Great Deliverance, won the Anthony Award, the Agatha Award, and France’s Le Grand Prix de Littérature Policière. It was also nominated for Macavity and Edgar awards, and was chosen as one of the 100 Favorite Mysteries of the 20th Century. George’s subsequent novels have regularly appeared on the New York Times bestseller list. George’s Inspector Lynley series has been adapted for television by the BBC.

A Great Deliverance begins with a murder that is shocking and unexpected. Roberta Teys is found sitting beside her beheaded father. With a bloody axe in her lap, she claims, “I did it. I’m not sorry” (44). Yet despite her confession, no one believes she could have committed the crime; numerous other suspects have both motive and opportunity. Inspector Thomas Lynley and Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers of Scotland Yard are sent to investigate. They uncover a number of startling details that will keep you riveted.

Surprisingly enough, this British mystery was written by an American. Equally amazing is the fact that George took only three and a half weeks to write it. The plot is intricate, skillfully crafted, and fast paced. George cleverly mirrors, as Michele Slung observes, the tragedy of the Tey relationships in Barbara Havers’s own family situation.

Although the novel contains elements from the soft-boiled tradition (such as the aristocratic detective and the rural British setting), it is a grisly, hard-boiled mystery complete with graphic violence, serial killing, and decapitation. The violence, however, is not gratuitous but necessary to convey the world of the story.

The lives of the titled Inspector Lynley (the 8th earl of Asherton) and his working-class partner, Barbara Havers, are as fascinating as the mysteries they explore. As I pointed out in my post on George’s Well-Schooled in Murder, “Lynley has the glamour of wealth and privilege; Havers, the appeal of the common person’s ordinary concerns. We might wish to be like Lynley but we identify with Havers.”

The cast of characters in A Great Deliverance is superbly drawn. George has a Master’s degree in Counseling/Psychology, and her insight into character is evident throughout the story. In a starred review, Kirkus claims that this novel “immediately thrusts the author into P.D. James’ dark orbit – with a peel-the-layers-off tale of emotional devastation.”

After reading the novel, you will see why Tom and Enid Shantz wrote in The Denver Post, “This is a first novel of extraordinary scope and power and a stunning debut from a writer from whom we’ll surely hear more.”

George, Elizabeth. A Great Deliverance. New York: Bantam, 1988.