The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane
By Katherine Howe
Connie Goodwin, a Harvard doctoral candidate in American history, plans to spend her summer researching her thesis. Unfortunately, a call from her mother, Grace, changes that. Grace asks her to clean out her grandmother’s old house near Salem, Massachusetts and make it ready for sale. She’s annoyed but relents. She packs up the car and moves out of town for the summer away from her books and libraries.
Thumbing through the bookshelves in the old dilapidated house one night when she can’t sleep, Connie finds a key in a bible. Inside the shaft of the key is a small piece of paper with the name Deliverance Dane scrolled on it. She tells her mother about it but Grace doesn’t recognize the name. She decides to do a bit of research and finds she may have her original source for her thesis. This happy twist of fate also brings her to Sam, a steeplejack refurbishing an old church in town. The meeting is fortuitous and Connie, who never thinks of anything but books, finds herself with a new topic to obsess over. Suddenly, things begin to fall apart around her — Sam gets hurt, her adviser takes on an unnatural interest in her work, and she seems to be developing strange powers.
Interspersed throughout the book are short interludes about Deliverance and her family. These snippets are interesting and I wish there were more of them. It’s the reason I like to read historical fiction and I like the dynamic of old and new in the story.
I have to admit that the first 100 pages seemed a tad slow to me waiting for Connie to find what she was looking for. Once things picked up, it became much more interesting and fast paced. It was an intriguing take on the Salem witch trials and a glance at New England sensibilities at the time. A good read overall.