The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane ~ Katherine Howe

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physickbookThere has been a lot of prepub buzz about this book. First of all, it has a beautiful cover and that gets me every time. Second, it’s about the Salem Witch Trials, a topic that has been ingrained into my brain as probably one of the first history topics I ever learned about, but this wasn’t the same old thing. She really took the book in a direction I didn’t expect. Of course, I wish there was a little more of the steeplejack. That was probably one of the best introductions of a character into a story. It was like the opposite of a deus ex machina. Did I really say that? Anyway, here’s a review that I did for work:

Harvard PhD student, Connie Goodwin, plans to spend her summer researching her doctoral thesis, but when a telephone call from her free-spirited mother sends her to Marblehead, MA to get her grandmother’s house ready to sell, her plans get a little side-tracked. Not only is the project more time consuming than she thought, Connie also finds herself caught up in a historical mystery. While she is cleaning the house, a key falls out of a family bible. Inserted in the key is a slip of paper bearing the name Deliverance Dane.  Dating the paper to the 17th century, Connie begins to research the life of this unknown woman. Her discoveries push Connie outside her orderly way of thinking and combined with an eery change in her Harvard advisor they make her summer plans more eventful than she had planned.

Katherine Howe is a descendant of two women who were accused of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials and her book provides a refreshing look at that time period.  I enjoyed how the chapters alternated between the present day and the 17th century.  Connie was a genuinely likable character even though I did want to jostle her a few times when she didn’t get things that seemed obvious to the reader – she is from Harvard after all. Her cynicism regarding the modern day witches in Salem resonated with me and at the same time it made her eventual transformation more compelling. A certain steeplejack was a great foil for her seriousness.

Reading about local haunts is always fun and I think Howe does a good job of capturing Salem and Marblehead. The history of the Salem Witch Trials is so much a part of our surrounding landscape that I often forget the details. The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane makes me want to refresh my memory.


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