The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane - Katherine Howe Katherine Howe's 2009 novel, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane follows Harvard graduate student Connie Goodwin through the summer of 1991, unfortunately divided between research for her dissertation (with her adviser actively pushing her to find her primary source), and the great task of cleaning out her late grandmother's old house in Marblehead, Massachusetts so it could be sold. Her initial inspection of the house produced a key hidden in a Bible, with the name 'Deliverance Dane' on a small scroll inside it. A student in American Colonial history, she is quick on the trail of a possible primary source, the study of which would secure her high reputation in her field. Appearing only in the town's records, deceased in 1692, and not listed in the church's records suggested that Deliverance was probably a previously unaccounted for victim of the Salem witch trials. Public records indicated a book-like item being transferred upon death through her family, whether an almanack (sic) or a receipt book, but they stop before giving away a very current location. When her new love interest's life is on the line, the "Book of Deliverance Dane" becomes more important than ever. Along the way Connie discovers just how much people are willing to sacrifice to possess this 'shadow book'.

Intermingled throughout Connie's story is the tale of Deliverance Dane from the very beginning of the Salem witch hunt, through the eyes of her young daughter, Mercy. Deliverance made her living doing "physick," a sort of magic, and was often called upon by neighbors to cure an ailment or save a runt calf. She kept a book of her recipes and incantations, passed on through the women in her family for generations. When she wrongly diagnoses a dying young girl and gives the wrong "physick," her father blames Deliverance for her death, and upon the scream of witch from a few of the town's young girls, he saw his chance for revenge and claimed she purposely killed her daughter through instruction of the Devil. As panic strikes this small colonial town, Mercy must take her mother's book and run, go to the house in the next town that her mother had provided for her protection. But most of all, she had to save her mother's healing craft, and continue its practice in secret.

Clearly, extensive research and knowledge went into this novel, both of the Salem witch trials and the Colonial period in general. The appearance and personality are accurate according to written accounts of this period, as well as portraits still preserved today. With a plethora of unexpected twists and turns, this novel teaches readers a little bit about a very monumental event in our country's history, and the severe consequences of fanaticism and widespread panic. I think The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane deserves the full five out of five stars for combining a great thriller and an amazing historical novel.