Deliverance From Evil

Written by Frances Hill
Review by Margaret Barr

The witch hysteria in Salem Village is familiar territory for fiction, but Frances Hill informs her novel with her own historical scholarship on these incidents, their origins, and their impact on the community. When the young girls in the household of the aggrieved Reverend Parris and the ambitious Thomas Putnam accuse neighbors and enemies of bewitching them and being Satan’s tools, religious and local divisions erupt.

The central character in this well-told and absorbing account is the darkly impressive widower George Burroughs, who transplanted himself from Salem to Maine. Unexpectedly, in the aftermath of an Indian raid, he finds a loving and devoted young wife, Mary, and through her, hopefulness and renewal.

On being accused as the devil’s agent, he finds himself back in Salem to defend himself against the charges – to no avail. His and Mary’s connection sustains them both through their ordeal, as they confront corrupt and colluding magistrates, self-important ministers, and their own frailties. As the village’s leading citizens and lowliest residents make their lonely march to Gallows Hill, the reader’s recognition of the horrors and senselessness of the campaign against supposed witches and wizards builds.

With her admirable gift for dialogue and her ability to depict a time and place with telling incident, Hill is a welcome recruit to the ranks of historical novelists. Those with a particular interest in the witch trials or who enjoy books infused with detail of early colonial life should seek out this version of the tragic events.