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The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane ~ Katherine Howe

June 23, 2009

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Genre: Adult Fiction

Publisher: Hyperion Books

384 pages

ISBN: 9781401340902

Who says that academia and romance are mutually exclusive? Certainly not Katherine Howe. Her debut novel, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, tackles both ends of the spectrum, appealing to history lovers and lovers of love alike.

In the summer of 1991, Howe’s leading lady, Connie Goodwin, finds herself elbow deep in tweed jackets and dusty tomes, as a rising Harvard doctorate candidate. Just as she is about to hunker down with her research during the hot New England summer, her mother calls, wondering if Connie might be able to spare her steamy months to fix up a crumbling family property in the coastal suburb of Marblehead. Reluctant but obligated, Connie resigns herself to the project, in so doing, finding the literal key to her struggling search for a thesis topic. Armed with a supernatural family history and a slip of paper containing the name “Deliverance Dane”, she rushes headlong into a search for answers with one foot in the relative present and one in the distant past.

I have a confession. I initially picked up this book because Matthew Pearl’s endorsement was staring back at me from the cover. The Physick Book and The Dante Club have a similar pace, although there is a bit more magic in the former, which was surprisingly fun as opposed to, well, weird as I assumed it might be. That said, the comparison between the two ends there as each writer has his/her own style and agenda.

I was pleased that the romantic thread did not take over the book but was still worked in, subtly. Love managed to play a significant role in the story without overshadowing the pace of the adventure. I also appreciated Howe’s attention given to her peripheral players, in addition to her building up of Connie and Deliverance. Delving deeper into the supporting cast helped establish the needed communal feel, both of cutthroat academics and hysterical old town politics.

For this little girl from New England, Howe’s regional references were a welcome spin through the North Shore. She does a great job of capturing the feel of the area. Howe’s well researched flash backs to the trials themselves add a deeper look into the research being done in the present storyline. My only complaint was that Howe leaned heavily on the gimmick of Boston dialect in both time periods, which became slightly tedious. The dialogue itself was not terrible; I just found that the actual affectation in print made the story slow a bit whenever it came up.

Howe does a great job of pulling out questions of historical ethics, while keeping it light enough to be good beach reading. Those looking for a summer story with a little bit of substance will appreciate the hybrid of passion, adventure and history. All in all, this was a great read and an enchanting debut piece. I will definitely be keeping her on my radar.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 24, 2009 10:07 am

    Very nice review. I had been seeing a lot on this book, so I’m glad to read your thoughts on it.

  2. June 24, 2009 10:58 am

    Well, now I want to read it. Time to make a library reservation! I borrow books – almost never buy them… yay for being green. 🙂

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