>Review: The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane; Katherine Howe


The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane Harvard graduate student Connie Goodwin needs to spend her summer doing research for her doctoral dissertation. But when her mother asks her to handle the sale of Connie’s grandmother’s abandoned home near Salem, she can’t refuse. As she is drawn deeper into the mysteries of the family house, Connie discovers an ancient key within a seventeenth-century Bible. The key contains a yellowing fragment of parchment with a name written upon it: Deliverance Dane. This discovery launches Connie on a quest–to find out who this woman was and to unearth a rare artifact of singular power: a physick book, its pages a secret repository for lost knowledge.

As the pieces of Deliverance’s harrowing story begin to fall into place, Connie is haunted by visions of the long-ago witch trials, and she begins to fear that she is more tied to Salem’s dark past then she could have ever imagined.


I have always been a firm believer in “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover”, “It’s what’s inside that counts” etc… but I have to say, what first attracted me to Katherine Howe’s The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane (what a mouthful!) was its cover. It has the look of an ancient book you find accidentally in the attic, yellowed pages, slightly worn at the edges, quite pretty. So, I picked it up, ignored all the other plain books, saw its name – and was caught. I know, shameful.

The book is set in modern day Harvard and Salem Mass. but also has “interludes” in seventeenth century Salem. A mystery where the key (literally) is found in the past. Connie is beginning her dissertation research and expects to get work done over the summer vacation, but soon finds herself immersed in a different type of research when she finds a key and a note with the name Deliverance Dane in an old bible at her grandmother’s run down Salem home. She begins to research the history of Deliverance Dane and uncovers some incredible facts that take the reader back to the Salem witch trials of 1692 (two of Katherine Howe’s ancestors were among the accused in the trials). While Connie is researching the past, her present is getting in the way, as her pretentious dissertation advisor won’t leave her alone and is making threats about research funding. Connie thinks she is on to something big and won’t give up until she finds The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane.

So, did the book’s cover match it’s content? I really enjoyed this book, Howe makes the story – both the modern setting and historical interludes, flow seamlessly. The mystery grabs you from the get go, and keeps you guessing. The interludes weren’t intrusive as is the case in many books where the author takes you back and forth, and as someone who has been through the torture of a dissertation, I laughed and shuddered through Connie’s research troubles.

This was definitely a plot driven book rather than character driven. You don’t really get to know much about Connie, or the other characters in the book. They play second fiddle to the mystery. The “bad guy” in the story is a really bad guy, other characters include the supportive funny best friend, the love interest and the new-agey mom but that is as deep as it gets.

The most unusual thing about this book is that it takes a strange turn in in the third and final part. Saying too much about this might ruin the story, but I will say that this isn’t a traditional mystery. Its almost as if Howe started out writing one book, and decided mid-writing to write something entirely different. I didn’t mind the twist but I would have enjoyed it more if it were brought out earlier in the book, even though – there is some foreshadowing of what is to come.

This book would definitely make my summer booklist, fun and enjoyable. The next time I see a book by Howe, I’ll get it because I know it will be an enjoyable read, even if it won’t make it to my keeper shelf. Yes, books should not be judged by their covers, but a pretty cover never hurts. 

This book was purchased by Noa    

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