Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

Sometimes, you read the right book at the right time. I got The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, by Katherine Howe, for Christmas, but it's been sitting on the shelf over my desk since, unread. When I finished reading The Doctor Trap I wanted to pick up something new right away, and though I'm still in the middle of Victorian Visitors, I wanted fiction. The Physick Book was the natural choice.

It tells the story of Connie, a Harvard graduate student in history, who goes to stay in her grandmother's ancient house in Marblehead, Massachusetts to clean it out in preparation for selling it. The house has no electricity and no telephone, and it's been empty for twenty years. Connie is meanwhile supposed to be figuring out a dissertation topic for her PhD. Her first night in the house, she opens a 17th century Bible and out falls an old key, with a bit of paper in it that bears the name Deliverance Dane. Deliverance proves to be one of the women accused in the Salem with trials of 1692, and the story unfolds from there.

I loved this book for much the same reasons I love Tam Lin--its elements of the academic world and hints (or more than hints) of fantasy and romance. The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane has so many wonderful strands of plot, clever foreshadowing, and characters who are not quite who they seem, which are finally drawn together in a clear and interesting way. This is not literary fiction, and in fact has many qualities of a thriller, but it is well-written and well-told, and it's a very good story. Thoroughly satisfying, so much so that I read most of it in great chunks over the holiday weekend. It's a good holiday book, is what it is, and it helped remind me how much I love sitting and reading for hours on end.

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