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The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe


First of all, as a person who has always been interested in names and their origins and meanings, I'd just like to say that the name Deliverance Dane is awesome. Truly awesome--and according to the author's note at the end of the book, it belonged to a real person involved in the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 in Massachusetts. Deliverance Dane. I love that name.

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane is the debut novel of Katherine Howe, a doctoral candidate in American and New England Studies. In 1991, Connie, a Harvard graduate student just beginning her doctoral dissertation research in American colonial history and culture, is coerced by her mother into cleaning up her grandmother's ancient house in Marblehead, Massachusetts. When Connie arrives, the house is in near ruins, having stood empty for about twenty years, the yard's herb and vegetable gardens are overgrown and the house lacks a phone and electricity. One evening Connie happens across an old key hidden in a family bible; the key is labelled with ancient parchment as belonging to one Deliverance Dane. Thus begins Connie's search for the identity of this woman; Connie's early research yeilds the name of Deliverance Dane on a 1692 list of excommunicated persons from the Salem church. She knows what this means: Dane was caught up in the tragedy and terror of the Salem Witch Trials of that year. But who was she and why was her name purged from history? Connie, plagued by puzzling, frightening visions, becomes determined to answer these questions. Interwoven with this story are chapters hearkening back to the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries that reveal the very beginnings of Dane's ordeal in the decade preceding the panic that spawned the witch trials, the trials, and Dane's trial's aftermath on the generations of Dane women immediately descended from Deliverance. How does Dane's story connect to Connie's present? Connie utilizes all her skills as a historian to trace the whereabouts of Dane's spellbook as it is passed down the generations mother to daughter.

With a gripping story firmly rooted in research the intriguing, fascinating and heartbreaking history of the Salem Witch Trials is intermingled with several historical, cultural, anthropological and societal theories explaining the panic that gripped such a small town. The page turning suspense carries the reader quickly toward a heartpounding climax in which Connie realizes that both her history and her future are far more intertwined than she ever could have imagined.

This book is available here at the Matthews Public Library and also upon request from the Annville Free Library. I highly recommend that history buffs, family genealogical enthusiasts, or mystery lovers check it out.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie

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