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Editorial Reviews

A darkly quirky tale with enough twists and turns to make a tornado seem like a gentle rainfall, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane will keep you on the edge of your seat. The suspense is due partly, of course, to debut novelist Katherine Howe's frequent cliffhangers (who knew a story with frequent library scenes could be so compelling!), but it's also due to narrator Katherine Kellgren's expert inflections and pacing. A master of accents and tone, Kellgren's skills are put to good use in this tale that flashes back and forth between the academic world of Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1991 and the Puritanical one of Salem, Massachusetts 300 years earlier. You believe her equally as young Ph.D. candidate Connie Goodwin, embittered sextagenarian academic Manning Chilton, and the cold judges and hysterical accusers of the Salem Witch Trials.

Authors and historians (Howe is both) learned long ago that any account of the Salem Witch Trials offers a mesmerizing narrative. But Howe takes the conceit one step further. As Connie, read by Kellgren in a perfectly-cast sing-songy voice, begins considering her dissertation in American Colonial studies in earnest, she must move to her grandmother's thoroughly unmodern house for the summer. While there, a mysterious key and a piece of paper with the name Deliverance Dane drops out of a family Bible. In flashbacks to the 1690s, we learn of the real Deliverance Dane's life as a town healer and, ultimately, her conviction of practicing witchcraft. Meanwhile, back in the 20th century, we follow Connie's exhaustive search for Deliverance's elusive journal — of recipes, of witchcraft, she doesn't know — first for academic reasons then to save the life of her love interest. Along the way, as Kellgren's narration gets faster, louder, raspier, and stronger, we, like Connie, discover that perhaps there really were some magical women in Salem then, and now. —Kelly Marages

Publisher's Summary

Connie is looking forward to starting work on her graduate thesis over the summer, when her mother asks her to sell an abandoned house once owned by her grandmother in Salem, Mass. Relunctantly, Connie moves to the small town and inhabits the crumbling, ancient house, trying to restore it to a semblance of order.

Curious things start to happen when Connie finds the name "Deliverance Dane" on a yellowed scrap of paper inside an old Bible, and begins to have visions of a long ago woman condemned for practicing "physick," or herbal healing, on her neighbors in 1690s Salem.

Interspersed with modern-day sections are chapters on the actual witch trials, revealing the fascinating story of Deliverance Dane and how she got caught up in the tragic events. Connie meets an intriguing young steeplejack named Sam, who's also interested in the history of the area. But just as Connie starts to unravel some of the mysteries surrounding Deliverance's identity, Sam has a horrifying accident, and Connie has to figure out a way to save him that involves an ancient and mystical cure. And to do that, she needs to locate the actual "physick book" once owned by Deliverance Dane herself.

Immediately compelling, with powerful historic insight and detail, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane is that rare find - a literary first novel with a very commercial premise and pacing.

©2009 Katherine Howe; (P)2009 Hyperion

Critic Reviews

"In all, a keen and magical historical mystery laced with romance and sly digs at society's persistent underestimation of women." (Booklist)

What members say

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  • Overall


It took a little bit of time for me to discover why I didn't particularly enjoy this book. At first I wasn't sure if it was due to the story or to the narration. Eventually I realized that it was the story itself. Actually this one of those books which uses the device of telling two parallel stories. There is a main story and then the backstory which adds clues and color to the main one. In this case, the backstory was far more interesting.
Author Katherine Howe's main character Connie Goodwin is a rather colorless Phd candidate of history at Harvard. She is by turns pretentious, specious, and amazingly childish. We meet Connie as she is being grilled in an oral exam. We also meet her unpleasantly condescending and chauvanistic advisor Professor Chilton.
The backstory is about Deliverance Dane. Deliverance comes to Connie's attention through the discovery of a mysterious key in a family Bible. Connie's life is somehow entwined with Deliverance Dane who is possibly an undocumented Salem witch and thus becomes the basis for Connie's dissertation.
Katherin Kellgren's narration is done well except for the male voices - but this is a common issue I often have with female narrators. I don't know if her rendering of Professor Chilton's New England accent is correct or not, though to my untrained ear it sounds plausible.
It was Deliverance Dane's story which kept me going otherwise I found I didn't much care about Connie.
In a strange way, I found myself relieved when the story was over, sort of like having a tooth pulled - better when its over.

28 of 30 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Darinda
  • Coldwater, MI, United States
  • 06-20-09

Love it!

This book draws you in and holds your interest until the very end. I enjoyed the shifts between the current storyline and the historical events of the Salem Witch trials of the late 1600's and how they eventually became tied together. The narrator did an excellent job and was easy to listen to. I would highly recommend this book!

18 of 19 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Rosemary
  • New Haven, CT, United States
  • 03-11-10


I quite enjoyed listening to this book and being transported into the world that the author creates. It's not perfect, and some of the characters were not especially believable, but I highly recommend it if you're looking for something in the vein of "The Secret History of the Pink Carnation". (To be fair, the quality of the writing in "The Physick Book" is about 10 times better than "Pink Carnation", but the parts set in the past in "Pink Carnation" are about 10 times more engaging.)

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Morgan
  • San Francisco, CA, United States
  • 09-04-09

Liked it well enough

I liked this well enough. I agree with some previous reviews - the main character is a little bit "dumb" considering the fact that she's a PhD student at Harvard. But otherwise I enjoyed the story and the narration by Katherine Kellgren is really great - love her different voices. The beginning is great, middle lagged and was repetitive, but liked the ending!

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Love it!

This book draws you in and holds your interest until the very end. I enjoyed the shifts between the current storyline and the historical events of the Salem Witch trials of the late 1600's and how they eventually became tied together. The narrator did an excellent job and was easy to listen to. I would highly recommend this book!

16 of 17 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Alice
  • Sandy, UT, United States
  • 06-29-09

Not great

This is the first book I've taken the time to review. there was very poor character development. I didn't fall in love, with anyone, or the story line. Very predictable and I really had a hard time making myself finish this book. The hospital/medical situations were poorly researched, and silly. The "woo-woo" music at the end of every chapter increased the pain. I will say that when the author traveled back in time, her story was much richer and she painted a much better picture than when she came back to the 1990's

14 of 15 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Slow to Develop but Ultimately Worth The Wait

This book started very slowly. And overall I think it could have used a little more character development in the secondary characters, but it was a very interesting historical/mystery/fantasy fiction book and the author kept all 3 genres active throughout the story. A little more romance might have been nice. You didn't get the sense the heroine and the man she loved were really very close.

The narrator did a great job with all of the New England accents and it was easy to distinguish between her current character voices and those of the characters that were 300 years old. And the house was like something out of a gothic novel. Almost a character itself.

I really liked the way the past was revealed visually to Connie. She took several insignificant and seemingly unrelated facts about a particular person, and as she envisioned the facts in her mind and combined them with other scraps of information gathered, she suddenly became a witness to that person's life. She didn't just know what they owned, she watched them use it. Fascinating.

All in all a very enjoyable read. I think this is this author's first book. I hope she writes more.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Mara
  • Saskatchewan
  • 01-14-10


From my understanding this is Katherine Howe's first novel and I can't wait for her next.

True it is a bit slow in areas but I didn't get bored for one minute. The lives of all the women from 1692 to 1991 were wonderfully detailed and I was interested in the process that Connie had to go through to find herself and the book. I couldn't wait for my commute to continue the story each day.

I did find it a little predictable but the story wasn't a mystery - it was about the women who were bound by this book and it's a peek into a time so different from our own.

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Heidi
  • Napa, CA, United States
  • 06-26-09


Great book...I love historical fiction and this one delivered...there are enough twists and turns to keep you on the edge of your seat and wanting to finish the book so you know what happens...I really enjoyed the seamless transition from 1991 to the 15th & 16th centuries...and you fall in love with the characters...I highly recommend this book...and because it is relatively clean I have also bought it and given it to my 14 year old book worm of a niece...

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Fantastic Book!

Well written and fantastic narration. A great new take on the old Salem story. I loved this book! Give it a try, I think you will too. It's a smart, contemporary retelling of historical information in a "can't put it down" way.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful