Sunday, November 8, 2009

Review: The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe

Normally, I don't have a great interest in witches, witchcraft, or even the Salem history about them.  But this book is so well written that it really has whetted my interest to find out more.  While not exclusively historical fiction, it is fictional and does have as its central theme witchcraft and the question of whether it was responsible for the events that occurred in Salem Massachusetts in the late 1600's.

Connie Goodwin, a PhD candidate at Harvard, is trying to define the topic she will develop for her dissertation. As summer opens, her mother, living in the Southwest, phones to ask Connie to please spend the summer cleaning out her dead grandmother's vacant but furnished house in Marblehead.  Urged on by an academic advisor whose motives become more suspect as the story unfolds, she begins her dissertation research at the same time she moves to the house. While there, Connie discovers that the house has no electricity, no phone, a mountain of grime encrusted furniture, a collection of filthy bottles, and a jungle-like yard, completely hiding the house from the road. 

The principle discovery on her grandmother's shelves is a Bible and key.  Inside the key, there is a tiny curled piece of paper with the name Deliverance Dane.  Connie's search for information about "Livvy" Dane leads her to various libraries, archives, auction houses, as she becomes more and more anxious to find Dane's missing 'receipt' book.  In the process, she meets Sam the steeple climber who is an old house restoration expert. 

Howe skillfully interweaves the story of Deliverance and her decendants -- and the story of her book-- with the present day story of Connie and her immediate antecedants -- and the story of her search for the book in alternating chapters.  We are lead inexorably to a climax where evil, romance, reconciliation, and historical conformation all meet. We are also lead to the ultimate question "Is Connie a witch? Does she possess certain mysterious powers she's only now discovering?"  We are left to decide on our own.  This  was a powerful, emminently readable, and exciting book: one I highly recommend.

Howe gives us a short but interesting list of sources to get us started on our own quest to find out more. 
This was an ARC I swapped with another blogger friend who highly recommended it.  Thanks to her (I can't remember who sent it to me) and to Hyperion Books who originally made it available. 


  1. Thanks for the review.

    This was actually the first title I reviewed when I started blogging in July.
    I did not care for the book though I really really wanted to. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

  2. Hi, Tutu! I've always been curious about this book. It's funny, but I feel some sort of affinity to witches. I feel that they're a misunderstood group. I'll check this out when I go to the bookstore this week. Thanks for the review!

  3. We were in Salem last spring and although I found some of the sites just too hokey for words, we did enjoy the visitors center. I am fascinated by American history and mysteries - I'll read this one.

  4. This book fell pretty flat for me, actually. I didn't like Connie much and I had a feeling that if the book had continued, the history of men married to witches might have continued...

  5. For whatever reason, the Salem witches just don't hold too much fascination for me. But you've made the book sound much more appealing than it has to date.

  6. I really liked the historical sections of this book, but not so much the scenes set in contemporary time. Have you read THE HERETIC'S DAUGHTER by Kathleen Kent? It's more fact-based and strictly historical. I enjoyed it a lot, though it does have quite a bit of sadness to it.


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