Summary and book reviews of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

by Katherine Howe

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe X
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jun 2009, 384 pages
    Apr 2010, 384 pages


  • Rate this book

Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

A spellbinding, beautifully written novel that moves between contemporary times and one of the most fascinating and disturbing periods in American history - the Salem witch trials.

Harvard graduate student Connie Goodwin needs to spend her summer doing research for her doctoral dissertation. But when her mother asks her to handle the sale of Connie's grandmother's abandoned home near Salem, she can't refuse. As she is drawn deeper into the mysteries of the family house, Connie discovers an ancient key within a seventeenth-century Bible. The key contains a yellowing fragment of parchment with a name written upon it: Deliverance Dane. This discovery launches Connie on a quest--to find out who this woman was and to unearth a rare artifact of singular power: a physick book, its pages a secret repository for lost knowledge.

As the pieces of Deliverance's harrowing story begin to fall into place, Connie is haunted by visions of the long-ago witch trials, and she begins to fear that she is more tied to Salem's dark past then she could have ever imagined.

Written with astonishing conviction and grace, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane travels seamlessly between the witch trials of the 1690s and a modern woman's story of mystery, intrigue, and revelation.


Cambridge, Massachusetts
Late April

"It would appear that we are nearly out of time," announced Manning Chilton, one glittering eye fixed on the thin pocket watch chained to his vest. He surveyed the other four faces that ringed the conference table. "But we are not quite done with you yet, Miss Goodwin."

Whenever Chilton felt especially pleased with himself his voice became ironic, bantering: an incongruous affectation that grated on his graduate students. Connie picked up on the shift in his voice immediately, and she knew then that her qualifying examination was finally drawing to a close. A sour hint of nausea bubbled up in the back of her throat, and she swallowed. The other professors on the panel smiled back at Chilton.

Through her anxiety, Connie Goodwin felt a flutter of satisfaction tingle somewhere in her chest, and she permitted herself to bask in the sensation for a moment. If she had to guess, she would have said that the exam was going ...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!


BookBrowse Review


Katherine Howe's debut novel, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, is part historical fiction, part modern-day mystery, and part romance; unfortunately, it's a combination that Howe can't quite seem to weave into an engaging story.

The parts of the book that deal with Puritan midwife Deliverance Dane and her descendants contain some of the most convincing historical fiction I've encountered. Howe's detailed research and her love of the subject come through on every page; she sheds new light on a period of American history that has already had countless books written about it – not an easy feat to accomplish. The chapters that focus on earlier centuries are about much more than the Salem Witch Trials, though; they paint a vivid picture of what life was like for colonial women in the New World, particularly those with a gift for healing. Here, Howe writes with great depth and originality, drawing her readers into the story completely.  These top-notch historical fiction sections are likely the reason the book is garnering so much attention.

I find that I can't recommend the novel whole-heartedly, however, as readers will have to overlook some relatively serious literary flaws to find it enjoyable.  I can't remember the last time I encountered a work with a plot as utterly banal as is the one underlying the modern-day sections of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane.   There is not a single element of the story that the reader can't see coming a mile away. Amazingly, the current sections are more predictable than those dealing with the Salem Witch Trials – and most readers are well acquainted with the trials' outcomes. That misstep might be forgivable if her main character, an otherwise strong, intelligent woman, didn't come across as completely oblivious to unfolding events; it frustrates the reader to watch this character be utterly shocked by the obvious. The romance the heroine embarks upon is likewise lackluster.

Also detracting from the fine historical fiction is the one-dimensionality of Howe's present-day characters. The author breathes such life into Deliverance Dane and her daughter, Mercy, and yet somehow can't manage the same with the other entities she creates. Several major characters are nothing but caricatures, as flat as cardboard.

Finally, the book drifts from historical fiction into the realm of fantasy as the magic becomes real and it becomes apparent that Deliverance and her descendants had some sort of paranormal ability. I personally felt this weakened the book; Howe's forays into history felt very believable, but injecting an element of the mystical into these sections made them seem much less so. Some readers, however, may discover this additional facet of the book adds interest and will find it entertaining rather than objectionable.

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane is a quick read, and probably a good choice for those looking for a "beach book" that's a bit apart from the norm. Its fast pace and interesting portrayal of life in the 17th century makes it worth perusing, but it is likely those wanting a well-written historical mystery will find it unsatisfying. - Kim Kovacs

Media Reviews

Washington Post
This charming novel is both a tale of New England grad-student life in 1991 and the Salem witch hunts in 1692...I liked this book very much.

Publishers Weekly
Howe's habit of ending chapters with cliffhangers are straight out of the thriller playbook, the writing is solid overall ... should appeal to readers who enjoyed The Heretic's Daughter.

Library Journal
This enjoyable novel is too slow-paced to be considered a thriller, but it's a solid selection that may appeal to readers who enjoyed recent novels about Salem's witches.

Kirkus Reviews
Informative, though not as creepy as it purports to be.

Starred Review. In all a keen and magical historical mystery laced with romance and sly digs at society's persistent underestimation of women.

Author Blurb Matthew Pearl, author of The Poe Shadow and The Dante Club
A fresh present-day story infused with an original take on popular history. Forget broomsticks and pointy hats; here are witches that could well be walking among us today. This debut novel flows with poetic charm and eloquence that achieves high literary merit while concocting a gripping supernatural puzzler. Katherine Howe's talent is spellbinding.

Reader Reviews

Sally N

Not Your Average Salem Witch Story
I found this story absolutely fascinating. Set in the current time period and written in a style both elegant and entertaining, Howe skillfully weaves a tale of mystery, romance and a discovery of untold family secrets. This book left me hungry for ...   Read More

Write your own review!

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!


Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

More books by Katherine Howe

If you liked The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, try these:

  • The Truth of All Things jacket

    The Truth of All Things

    by Kieran Shields

    Published 2013

    About this book

    More books by this author

    When newly appointed Deputy Marshal Archie Lean is called in to investigate a prostitute's murder in Portland, Maine, he's surprised to find the body laid out like a pentagram and pinned to the earth with a pitchfork. He's even more surprised to learn that this death by "sticking" is a traditional method of killing a witch...

  • Bone River jacket

    Bone River

    by Megan Chance

    Published 2012

    About this book

    More books by this author

    From award-winning author Megan Chance, Bone River is a haunting, lyrical tale of passion and identity.

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member
Search Readalikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Join Now!

Today's Top Picks

  • Book Jacket
    The Shadow King
    by Maaza Mengiste
    While reading The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste, I was reminded of the David Foster Wallace novel ...
  • Book Jacket: The Exiles
    The Exiles
    by Christina Baker Kline
    A young governess finds herself pregnant and in prison for theft and attempted murder. An Irish ...
  • Book Jacket: White Too Long
    White Too Long
    by Robert P. Jones
    Religious scholar Robert P. Jones doesn't pull any punches in his latest book, White Too Long: The ...
  • Book Jacket: Caste
    by Isabel Wilkerson
    In 2020, the word "racist" remains taboo. Conceptually, racism is so culturally unacceptable, so ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Stories from Suffragette City
    by M.J. Rose & Fiona Davis (editors)

    One City.
    One Movement.
    A World of Stories.
    Reader Reviews

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
The Exiles
by Christina Baker Kline

The author of Orphan Train returns with an ambitious, emotionally resonant historical novel.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win this book!
Win Agent Sonya

Agent Sonya: Moscow's Most Daring Wartime Spy

Master storyteller Ben Macintyre tells the true story behind the Cold War's most intrepid female spy.



Solve this clue:

I I M B T Give T T R

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.