Beth 's Reviews > The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe
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Mar 12, 12

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THE PHYSICK BOOK OF DELIVERANCE DANE by Katherine Howe is an interesting take on the innocence of the women hanged as a result of the Salem Witch Trials. History has shown that they were all victims of others’ hysteria. But what if one of the accused really was a “cunning woman”? That is the supposition of this book.

It’s 1991. Connie is a Harvard student working on her doctoral dissertation. At the same time, she’s living in the very old home left by her grandmother, supposedly getting it ready for sale. The home is near Salem, Massachusetts.

Connie finds “Deliverance Dane” written on a piece of paper inside a key inside a very old bible in the house. Her curiosity about the name leads to her investigation, which leads to the subject of her dissertation: a “recipe” book used by Deliverance Dane to cure the ailments of local people and animals. Connie needs to find that book.

When she hits a wall and she thinks she can trace it no further, her advisor, a professor at Harvard, becomes furious with her. He seems to be taking Connie’s investigation personally. Why? What does he have invested in this?

When this story deals with historical events, even those that are fiction, it’s enjoyable. Sometimes this is Connie’s research that so concerns her advisor. But sometimes we flash back to the 1600s and 1700s so that we see Deliverance’s book change ownership. In this way, we’re always a step ahead of Connie’s investigation.

This story also has magic, but it’s not as annoying as you might think. Even though it doesn’t seem at first to add to the story line and even if the magic does seem silly at times, it’s not just padding.

But other parts of the story did irritate me, especially Connie’s grandmother’s abandoned old home with no heat or electricity. It’s just too easy for Connie and her dog to live there. For example, at one point she makes a pot of pasta for dinner with a guest. How did she make it with no gas or electricity? And what about her bed? It had been sitting in that old house for 20 years. Wasn’t she afraid the mattress was full of bugs? And why was her first priority a telephone? Why wouldn’t she want a hot water heater for bath and dishwater and electricity first? Petty issues like these can spoil a story.

And then there are the last couple of chapters (that is not including the “Postscript,” which is very interesting). They’re ridiculous. For example, two people fight over a book that belongs to neither of them. If I cite more examples, I’ll give away too much.

But all in all, THE PHYSICK BOOK OF DELIVERANCE DANE is good. Connie’s research and the flashbacks, the author’s premise that one of the women pronounced guilty during the Salem Witch Trials may actually have been a witch, were interesting. I enjoyed reading the book. But I don’t think it lived up to all the hoopla over it in 2009 and 2010.
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