Something about the antique look to the cover of this brand new title and the thin but perfect old-fashioned sepia script of the inside covers persuaded me to scoop it up and attempt to read it in a week, as is required of all Reader's Express books at our library. I completed only half of the book in seven days, and reluctantly returned it, only to go back the same evening and check it back out so that I could finish it. And it was well worth the wait.
The first novel by Katherine Howe, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane chronicles the tale of Connie Goodwin, a Harvard doctoral candidate in 1991 (the year I completed grad school, BTW), who must clean out her grandmother's deserted New England home and discovers a piece of paper that possesses ties to the Salem Witchcraft Trials. Two parallel stories emerge as Deliverance's very real powers are misconstrued and she is hanged as a witch, with repercussions to her daughter Mercy and granddaughter Prudence. As we follow Connie's uncovering of the truth as she exercises her formidable researching skills, ties between her research and her own life are slowly unearthed. Meanwhile, her Harvard advisor is strangely putting a great deal of pressure on her, even threatening her, to discover the book of recipes and herbal remedies written by Deliverance Dane, a book that was passed down through the generations of the Dane women.
Through the several stories bridging the generations, Connie discovers the power of the Dane women and her own powers as knowledge and even a little romance lead her to the truth, her truth. The search for the Physick Book of Deliverance Dane is a compelling tale, half Salem Witch stories and half a modern telling of a young grad student discovering much about her family and herself as well.
Matthew Pearl, author of The Dante Club (which I very much liked), wrote:
"A fresh present-day story infused with an original take on popular history. Forget broomsticks and pointy hates; here are witches that could well be walking among just today. This debut novel flows with poetic charm and eloquence that achieves high literary merit while concocting a gripping supernatural puzzler. Katherine Howe's talent is spellbinding."This book is brand-new and I can't recommend it highly enough. It's a good summer read, especially for those who enjoy history and research as I do. It might feel a little "slow" for some accustomed to John Grisham or Sue Grafton, but if one is more of a Dorothy Sayers or P.D. James fan, then one will recognize the mastery of suspense without gratuitous violence and/or gore. It is well-worth slogging through the detritus of academia in order to get to the heart of the matter, to the Physick Book of Deliverance Dane.