Gaby's Reviews > The Devlin Diary

The Devlin Diary by Christi Phillips
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's review
Jun 01, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: detective-and-mystery, historical-fiction, literary-fiction
Read in May, 2010 — I own a copy

I haven't read The Rossetti Letter, so I approached The Devlin Diary as a standalone novel. On its own, The Devlin Diary is a satisfying read.

The book opens in 1670 in the Palace of Saint-Cloud in Paris at the sickbed of Princess Henriette-Anne, the wife of the Duc d'Orlean, sister-in-law to King Louis XIV of France and sister to King Charles Stuart of England. Princess Henriette-Anne has suddenly fallen sick and is in great pain, it is clear that she is not expected to live much longer. Surrounded by courtiers from France and England, the Princess has little privacy. In her last moments, she calls on an obscure Englishman, Robert Osborne, and it is to him that she whispers her last instructions.

The book jumps to London in 1672 where we meet Mrs. Hannah Devlin, the widowed daughter of two doctors who practices medicine as a physician and a "physick." Under the laws of the time, the College of Physicians and medical societies exclude women; Mrs. Devlin cannot qualify to practice medicine and risks a criminal charge of practicing medicine without a license. But Mrs. Devlin's practice is limited to poor and common folk with whom she has established a reputation for competence and skill, and she is safe as long as she remains unnoticed. It should be noted that Mrs. Devlin's medical training and skill is impeccable - she's learned from her parents who were both respected doctors. Her father had been physician to the King until a political disagreement caused him to be exiled from Court. Her mother had trained and practiced medicine in France, but upon her marriage was limited to acting as a "physick" and assisting her husband in his medical practice.

Mrs. Devlin is grabbed off the streets and brought to the King's residence at Whitehall to treat a favorite's suspicious illness. The diagnosis and treatment are within Hannah Devlin's competence, but the politics and intrigue at court may be her downfall. Hannah Devlin parries with Lord Arlington, a powerful man whose stormy relationship with her father threatens Hannah's own safety. Through her work at court, Mrs. Devlin befriends Dr. Edward Strathern who is newly appointed to run the anatomy theater at the College of Physicians. When members of court are murdered in a grisly and disturbing manner, Mrs. Devlin and Dr. Strathern work together to make sense of the killer's clues and to hunt down the murderer before he can kill again.

The Devlin Diary alternates between the story of Mrs. Devlin in the 1680s and Dr. Claire Donovan at Trinity College, Cambridge in 2008. Soon after solving the mystery behind The Rossetti Letter, Claire Donovan has been offered a prestigious fellowship at Cambridge University. While exploring an arcane collection in one of Cambridge's most eminent libraries, Claire Donovan comes across a slim volume written in code in the 1600s. As Claire deciphers the text, she realizes that she's found an account of unsolved murders during the time of King Charles Stuart. When a fellow historian is murdered, Claire Donovan and Andrew Kent search for links between the recent murder and the mysterious journal.

Christi Phillips combines historical fiction with a complex and well crafted mystery. If you're fond of unusual mysteries and historical fiction and looking for an engrossing, satisfying read, check out The Devlin Diary. I enjoyed it so much that I've just ordered the earlier novel, The Rossetti Letter.

ISBN-10: 1416527397 - Trade Paperback $15.00
Publisher: Pocket (May 12, 2009), 448 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher.

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