May 8, 2009

Review: "The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane" by Katherine Howe; Alt. Title "The Lost Book of Salem"


"The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane" by Katherine Howe
UK & AUS Title "The Lost Book of Salem"
The Physick Book Website with Trailer, Author Info and Book Info
hardcover: June 09, 2009; $25.95US/$31.95CA
ISBN10: 1401340903; ISBN13: 978-1-4013-4090-2
The Burton Review Rating: 4

The synopsis:
"A spellbinding, beautifully written novel that moves between contemporary times and one of the most fascinating and disturbing periods in American history -- the Salem witch trials. 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 secreted 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 colonial artifact of singular power: a physick book, its pages a secret repository for lost knowledge of herbs and other, stranger things. 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 begins to fear that she is more tied to Salem's dark past then she could have ever imagined.
Written with astonishing conviction and grace, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane travels seamlessly between the trials in the 1690s, and a modern woman's story of mystery, intrigue, and revelation."

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane is a mouthful of a title, isn't it? The unique title and cover of this book is an eye catcher, and this book early on has created a stir in the virtual world. Barnes & Noble used this book as their First Look title in April, (it boasts 4.5 stars here) where they hosted a forum for Q&A with the author and discussed the book which was all very interesting. You can follow along here on the web: B&N Board

The title itself is referring to a "recipe" book, or a book of spells or magical ideas (that has yet to be found in the USA), that once belonged to a person named Deliverance Dane. The main character of the book, Connie Goodwin, is a highly intelligent grad student who is asked by her hippie mom to go visit the old abandoned house in Marblehead, MA that the granny left behind. The house is stuck in time, forgotten by overgrowth and enveloped by shadows and Connie's task is to clean it up and prepare it to sell so that they do not have to pay the taxes on it any longer.

Connie doesn't know much about the house, and she is in for a treat of dirt and dust and grime, yet immediately she finds a key hidden in an old Bible which starts her journey to find out the connection between this key and the horrendous times of the Salem Witch trials. The subject matter has always been popular and Connie does not have much trouble finding information in the town regarding the people that were affected by the Salem Witch Trials.

Connie also meets a gorgeous guy along the way, and the romance adds a bit to the story while making Connie a little more human to the reader. Otherwise, Connie is truly out of my league with her big college words and exhaustive knowledge that she likes to recite regarding the history of the Salem Witch Trials. Thankfully the author is talented enough with her prose that we do not feel that we are imbeciles. Connie's advisor for her Ph.D. is a character that also adds to the story, as he adds a bit of creepiness. (I certainly didn't like him!) The plot is very intriguing, and the events are as fast-paced as they can plausibly be, with the added benefit of flashbacks to the very period of the 1690's that Connie is researching. Here we get snippets of a narration from the Dane family themselves, and a look into a witch trial as it occurs. It was not disarming at all to read the dialect of the Massachusetts citizens, where it would phonetically present itself such as "here" replaced by "heah" which I really think added to the nuance of the story.
There was the factor of predictability in the story, but the author captures us in the moment as we root for Connie to uncover the mystery. As mentioned, Connie is supposed to be quite intelligent, and the reader understands the underlying story more than she does due to the flashbacks we are privy to, so that can be a drag for some people. Connie's advisor also helpfully calls into question "What if the accused really were witches?" which goes against most of the modern thoughts on the subject. I enjoyed reading about the Salem Witch Trials, although not really learning anything earth shattering, but since it was such an easy and fun read I recommend this to anyone in the mood for a good novel. It was a fascinating part of our American History, and the fact that the author herself is a known descendant from two of the main figures of the history made this a compelling adaptation of it.

The author Katherine Howe has earned a devoted fan base on Facebook which there are mentions of a sequel (keep in mind the book still has a month to be released). I am not sure what material that would cover, the current book pretty much settles everything for me but of course if there is a sequel I would defiinitely pick it up. This book reopened the horrors of the days of the Salem Witch Trials, and made me want to look for more details on it. Whenever that happens, it is a good thing!