The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

3.9 2045
by Katherine Howe

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A crime lost to time. A secret buried deep. One book unlocks an unimaginable truth.

Salem, Massachusetts, 1681. Fear and suspicion lead a small town to unspeakable acts. Marblehead, Massachusetts, 1991. A young woman is about to discover that she is tied to Salem in ways she never imagined.  See more details below


A crime lost to time. A secret buried deep. One book unlocks an unimaginable truth.

Salem, Massachusetts, 1681. Fear and suspicion lead a small town to unspeakable acts. Marblehead, Massachusetts, 1991. A young woman is about to discover that she is tied to Salem in ways she never imagined.

Editorial Reviews

Denver Post
"Compulsively readable. . . . The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane is smart, and Howe's research translates into a vividly imagined narrative. The social forces driving Deliverance's life come alive, as do the realities of the not so distant pre-Internet and cellphone realities of Connie's world. The novel is a page-turner, but the characters, not the plot, dominate."
Portland Oregonian
"I thought I had found another Alice Hoffman as I began Katherine Howe's debut novel, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, perhaps a little practical magic overlaying a story of romance. Yes and no. It has definite Hoffman vibes, but with a little Da Vinci Code, Stephen King, and academic discourse thrown in to create a charming and different mix. . . . Howe is masterful."
Matthew Pearl
"A sensational debut novel . . . carries on every page Howe's unique passion, wit, intelligence, and spirit."
Boston Globe
"A terrific debut novel . . . a captivating thriller of the hidden powers of women throughout the centuries."
Christian Science Monitor
"Literary alchemy . . . powerful enough to deliver a charming summer read."
Dallas Morning News
"Howe pairs a scholarly search for a missing book with the thrill of spine-tingling witchery."
Real Simple
"If you need some magic in your life . . . lose yourself in The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane."
San Francisco Chronicle
"A devilishly delightful read."
USA Today
"A witch story that will leave you spellbound . . . Once in a while, a new writer offers up a hypnotic tale of the supernatural that has the publishing world quivering with excitement. In 2005 it was Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian; in 2006 it was Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale. This summer, The Physick Book is magic."
New York Daily News
"This isn't the same old hang-the-sorceror tale. It has a bedeviling twist."
From the Publisher
"Compulsively readable. . . . The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane is smart, and Howe's research translates into a vividly imagined narrative. The social forces driving Deliverance's life come alive, as do the realities of the not so distant pre-Internet and cellphone realities of Connie's world. The novel is a page-turner, but the characters, not the plot, dominate."—Denver Post"

I thought I had found another Alice Hoffman as I began Katherine Howe's debut novel, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, perhaps a little practical magic overlaying a story of romance. Yes and no. It has definite Hoffman vibes, but with a little Da Vinci Code, Stephen King, and academic discourse thrown in to create a charming and different mix. . . . Howe is masterful."—Portland Oregonian"

A sensational debut novel . . . carries on every page Howe's unique passion, wit, intelligence, and spirit."—Matthew Pearl, bestselling author of The Dante Club and The Poe Shadow"

A terrific debut novel . . . a captivating thriller of the hidden powers of women throughout the centuries."—Boston Globe"

Literary alchemy . . . powerful enough to deliver a charming summer read."—Christian Science Monitor"

Howe pairs a scholarly search for a missing book with the thrill of spine-tingling witchery."—Dallas Morning News"

If you need some magic in your life . . . lose yourself in The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane."—Real Simple"

A devilishly delightful read."—San Francisco Chronicle"

A witch story that will leave you spellbound . . . Once in a while, a new writer offers up a hypnotic tale of the supernatural that has the publishing world quivering with excitement. In 2005 it was Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian; in 2006 it was Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale. This summer, The Physick Book is magic."—USA Today"

This isn't the same old hang-the-sorceror tale. It has a bedeviling twist."—New York Daily News

A Selection of Barnes & Noble Recommends
"Have you not considered the distinct possibility that the accused were simply guilty of witchcraft?"

Connie Goodwin thinks her academic advisor is teasing her; she has mastered the scholarship surrounding the Salem witch trials of 1692 and knows the question he poses is preposterous. She never suspects that answering it will alter everything she knows about the past, her family, and the professor himself.

Interweaving two narratives, one set in 1991 and one set three centuries earlier, Katherine Howe's debut novel is a marvel of invention and historical reconstruction. The author employs her training as a historian to vividly depict the realities of 17th-century Salem, dramatizing the plight of the unfortunate victims as they fall prey to the mania of their accusers. But it is the leap of imagination by which she connects Connie to that distant past that turns The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane into a bewitching reading experience.

Sent by her mother to prepare her long-deceased grandmother's home for sale, Connie finds a decrepit dwelling filled with venerable oddities, including a collection of ancient bottles filled with peculiar liquids and powders. On her first night there, Connie chances on a crumbling bit of paper, bearing the words "Deliverance Dane," that has been carefully hidden inside a key tucked between the pages of a 300-year-old family Bible. Combing the local church registry for traces of this mysterious name, Connie strikes up an acquaintance with Sam, a steeplejack engaged in the church’s preservation. Together they piece together Deliverance's tragic story and learn of her precious book of spells and recipes for healing potions. When a series of sinister events threaten Sam's life, Connie's search for the book is transformed from scholarly pursuit to a matter of life and death -- and love.

With breathless suspense and emotional sympathy, Katherine Howe guides readers between past and present as she reveals the discoveries of Connie Goodwin and the secrets of Deliverance Dane, condemned as a witch in the Salem hysteria. Told with conviction and thrillingly paced, this extraordinary first novel proves Howe's command of what may be the greatest sorcery of all: that of the consummate storyteller.

From the Critics

Spellbinding, vividly detailed, witty, and astutely plotted.... A keen and magical historical mystery laced with romance and sly digs at society’s persistent underestimation of women. --Booklist (Starred Review)

From Our Booksellers

Deliverance Dane has everything: a memorable story, a fresh historical perspective, unforgettable characters, and a spark of magic! Bewitching! --Karen Schafroth, Des Peres, MO

Howe hit the perfect balance between spine-tingling thriller and thoughtful questioning of the Salem witch trials. I couldn’t, and didn’t, put it down. --Doug Britt, Chicago, IL

Read this book and feel history being rewritten. --Sandra Guerfi, White Plains, NY

I devoured this book! An academic mystery for fans of The Historian, Garden Spells, Possession, or Anne Rice’s Mayfair books. --Rosey McArdell, Apple Valley, MN
Publishers Weekly
Howe's novel moves back and forth between the summer of 1991 in Salem, Mass., and the 17th-century witch trial era, as college student Connie Goodwin chances upon a mysterious book written by the elusive Deliverance Dane. The characters are thin and the plot predictable, but Katherine Kellgren does her best with the material. Her voice is pleasing, her pacing and emphasis good, her diction clear but conversational. Most of her characters are distinguishable and reasonably represented, but the exaggerated British accent she adopts for the villain makes him more comical than terrifying. A Hyperion/Voice hardcover (Reviews, May 25). (June)
Library Journal

Howe's debut novel explores the Salem witch trials from the perspective of Connie Goodwin, a Ph.D. candidate in history at Harvard. While cleaning out her grandmother's house near Salem in the summer of 1991, Connie discovers an old key along with a fragment of paper bearing only the words Deliverance Dane. At the urging of her adviser, Connie embarks upon a frenzy of research in local archives. Evidence mounts that Deliverance was a local herbalist and wise woman who became a victim of the witch trials. Finding Deliverance's "physick book" of recipes becomes a priority for Connie, particularly when she realizes that it may hold the key to curing her new boyfriend of his mysterious ailment. Howe inserts short interludes featuring Deliverance and her descendants, adding depth to the story. Howe's own connection to Salem (two of her ancestors were accused of witchcraft) adds a welcome personal touch. 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 (i.e., Brunonia Barry's The Lace Reader and Kathleen Kent's The Heretic's Daughter).
—Laura Bliss

Kirkus Reviews
A first novel about alchemy, magic and witchcraft, set unsurprisingly in Salem, Mass., in the late 17th century and also, perhaps surprisingly, in Marblehead, Mass., in 1991. Connie Goodwin has just passed her doctoral oral exam in colonial American history at Harvard, and she looks forward to working with her mentor, Professor Manning Chilton, on breaking new ground in her dissertation. Then Connie gets an unexpected call from her New Age-y mother Grace, who is about to lose the house in Marblehead she inherited from her own mother because she's neglected for 20 years to pay the taxes on it-can Connie get it cleaned up and on the market for her? The house is, of course, eerie as well as abandoned. As Connie begins to look through Granna's house, she picks up an old Bible that gives her both an otherworldly feeling and an electric charge. Out of the Bible falls an antique key with a tiny scroll bearing the cryptic words "Deliverance Dane." Ever the good historian, Connie begins to track down the name. Eventually she finds allusions to a "Physick Book": a manual of medicine used by knowledgeable women in the colonial era, but also a book of spells. The volume seems ever more elusive as Connie's desire grows stronger to track it down. She's also feeling some uncomfortable pressure from Professor Chilton, who wants the book as badly as Connie, ostensibly because he thinks it will be helpful in a scholarly presentation he plans to make but more overtly because he seems to have some sinister agenda of his own. Howe alternates her narrative between Connie's groping attempts to track down the truth about the past and flashbacks to the real story of Deliverance Dane. We learn that she was awitch condemned in the 17th century, desperate for good reasons to keep her book hidden from ecclesiastical authorities. Informative, though not as creepy as it purports to be.

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Product Details

Hachette Books
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
8.10(w) x 5.24(h) x 1.04(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt


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 be-came ironic, bantering: an incongruous affectation that grated on his graduate students. Connie picked up on the shift in his voice immedi-ately, 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 adequately. But only just. A nervous smile fought to break across her face, but she quickly smothered it under the smooth, neutral expression of detached competence that she knew was more appropriate for a young woman in her position. This expression did not come naturally to her, and the resulting effort rather comically resembled someone who had just bitten into a persimmon.

There was still one more question coming. One more chance to be ruined. Connie shifted in her seat. In the months leading up to the qualifying exam, her weight had dropped, slowly at first, and then pre-cipitously. Now her bones lacked cushioning against the chair, and her Fair Isle sweater hung loosely on her shoulders. Her cheeks, usually flush and pink, formed hollows under her sloping cheekbones, making her pale blue eyes appear larger in her face, framed by soft, short brown lashes. Dark brown brows swept down over her eyes, screwed together in thought. The smooth planes of her cheeks and high fore-head were an icy white, dotted by the shadowy hint of freckles, and offset by a sharp chin and well-made, if rather prominent, nose. Her lips, thin and pale pink, grew paler as she pressed them together. One hand crept up to finger the tail end of a long, bark-colored braid that draped over her shoulder, but she caught herself and returned the hand to her lap.

"I can't believe how calm you are," her thesis student, a lanky young undergraduate whose junior paper Connie was advising, had exclaimed over lunch earlier that afternoon. "How can you even eat! If I were about to sit for my orals I would probably be nauseous."

"Thomas, you get nauseous over our tutorial meetings," Connie had reminded him gently, though it was true that her appetite had almost vanished. If pressed, she would have admitted that she enjoyed intimidating Thomas a little. Connie justified this minor cruelty on the grounds that an intimidated thesis student would be more likely to meet the deadlines that she set for him, might put more effort into his work. But if she were honest, she might acknowledge a less honorable motive. His eyes shone upon her in trepidation, and she felt bolstered by his regard.

"Besides, it's not as big a deal as people make it out to be. You just have to be prepared to answer any question on any of the four hun-dred books you've read so far in graduate school. And if you get it wrong, they kick you out," she said. He fixed her with a look of barely contained awe while she stirred the salad around her plate with the tines of her fork. She smiled at him. Part of learning to be a professor was learning to behave in a professorial way. Thomas could not be permitted to see how afraid she was.

The oral qualifying exam is usually a turning point-a moment when the professoriate welcomes you as a colleague rather than as an apprentice. More infamously, the exam can also be the scene of spectacular intellectual carnage, as the unprepared student-conscious but powerless-witnesses her own professional vivisection. Either way, she will be forced to face her inadequacies. Connie was a careful, precise young woman, not given to leaving anything to chance. As she pushed the half-eaten salad across the table away from the worshipful Thomas, she told herself that she was as prepared as it was possible to be. In her mind ranged whole shelvesful of books, annotated and bookmarked, and as she set aside her luncheon fork she roamed through the shelves of her acquired knowledge, quizzing herself. Where are the economics books? Here. And the books on costume and material culture? One shelf over, on the left.

A shadow of doubt crossed her face. But what if she was not pre-pared enough? The first wave of nausea contorted her stomach, and her face grew paler. Every year, it happened to someone. For years she had heard the whispers about students who had cracked, run sob-bing from the examination room, their academic careers over before they had even begun. There were really only two ways that this could go. Her performance today could, in theory, raise her significantly in departmental regard. Today, if she handled herself correctly, she would be one step closer to becoming a professor.

Or she would look in the shelves in her mind and find them empty. All the history books would be gone, replaced only with a lone binder full of the plots of late-1970s television programs and rock lyrics. She would open her mouth, and nothing would come out. And then she would pack her bags to go home.

Now, four hours after her lunch with Thomas, she sat on one side of a polished mahogany conference table in a dark, intimate corner of the Harvard University history building, having already endured three solid hours of questioning from a panel of four professors. She was tired but had a heightened awareness from adrenaline. Connie recalled feeling the same strange blending of exhaustion and intellectual intensity when she pulled an all-nighter to polish off the last chapter of her sen-ior thesis in college. All her sensations felt ratcheted up, intrusive, and distracting-the scratch of the masking tape with which she had provisionally hemmed her wool skirt, the gummy taste in her mouth of sugared coffee. Her attention took in all of these details, and then set them aside. Only the fear remained, unwilling to be put away. She settled her eyes on Chilton, waiting. The modest room in which she sat featured little more than the pit-ted conference table and chairs facing a blackboard stained pale gray with the ghostly scrawls of decades of chalk. Behind her hung a forgot-ten portrait of a white-whiskered old man, blackened by time and inat-tention. At the end of the room a grimy window stood shuttered against the late afternoon sunlight. Motes of dust hung almost mo-tionless in the lone sunbeam that lighted the room, illuminating the committee's faces from nose to chin. Outside she heard young voices, undergraduates, hail one another and disappear, laughing. "Miss Goodwin," Chilton said, "we have one final question for you this afternoon." Her advisor leaned into the empty center of the table, sunlight moving over his silver hair, stirring the dust into a glittering corona around his head. On the table before him, his fingers sat knotted as carefully as the club tie at his throat. "Would you please provide the committee with a succinct and considered history of witchcraft in North America?"

The historian of American colonial life, as Connie was, must be able to illustrate long-dead social, religious, and economic systems down to the slightest detail. In preparation for this exam, she had memorized, among other things, methods for preparing salt pork, the fertilizer uses of bat guano, and the trade relationship between molas-ses and rum. Her roommate, Liz Dowers, a tall, bespectacled student of medieval Latin, blond and slender, one evening had come upon her studying the Bible verses that commonly appeared in eighteenth-century needlepoint samplers. "We have finally specialized beyond our ability to understand each other," Liz had remarked, shaking her head.

For a last question, Connie knew Chilton had really given her a gift. Some of the earlier ones were considerably more arcane, even beyond what she had been led to expect. Describe the production, if she would, of the different major exports of the British colonies in the 1840s, from the Caribbean to Ireland. Did she think that history was more a story of great men acting in extraordinary circumstances, or of large populations of people constrained by economic systems? What role, would she say, did codfish play in the growth of New England trade and society? As her gaze roamed around the conference table to each professor's face in turn, she saw mirrored in their watching eyes the special area of expertise in which each had made his or her name. Connie's advisor, Professor Manning Chilton, looked at her across the table, a small smile flickering at the edge of his mouth. His face, framed with a fringe of brushed cotton hair, was seamed at the fore-head, creased by folds from the corners of his nose to his jaw, which the low sunlight in the conference room cast in deep shadow. He car-ried himself with the easy assurance of the vanishing breed of aca-demic who has spent his entire career under Harvard's crimson um-brella, and whose specialization in the history of science in the colonial period was fueled by a childhood spent shooed away from the drawing room of a stately Back Bay town house. He bore the distinguished smell of old leather and pipe tobacco, masculine but not yet grandfatherly.

Chilton was flanked around the conference table by three other respected American historians. To his left perched Professor Larry Smith, a tight-lipped, tweedy junior faculty economist, who asked knotty questions designed to indicate to the senior professors his au-thority and expertise. Connie glowered at him; twice already in the exam he had asked questions probing where he knew her knowledge was scanty. She supposed that that was his job, but he was the only committee member likely to recall his own qualifying exams. Perhaps she had been naïve to expect solidarity from him; oftentimes profes-sors of his rank were the hardest on grad students, as if to make up for the indignities they felt themselves to have suffered. He smiled back at her primly.

To Chilton's right, her chin on one jeweled hand, sat Professor Janine Silva, a blowsy, recently tenured gender studies specialist who favored topics in feminist theory. Her hair was wilder and wavier today than usual, with a burgundy sheen that was patently false. Connie enjoyed Janine's willful denial of the Harvard aesthetic; long floral scarves were her trademark. One of Janine's favorite rants concerned Harvard's relative hostility to women academics; her interest in Con-nie's career sometimes bordered on the motherly, and as a result Connie consciously had to work to control the pseudo-parental trans-ference that many students develop toward their mentors. While Chilton held more power over her career, Connie dreaded disappointing Janine the most. As if sensing this momentary flicker of anxiety, Janine sent Connie a thumbs-up, partly concealed behind one of her arms.

Finally, to Janine's right hunched Professor Harold Beaumont, Civil War historian and staunch conservative, known for his occasional grumpy forays onto the Op-Ed page of the New York Times. Connie had never worked closely with him and had placed him on her commit-tee only because she suspected that he would have very little person-ally invested in her performance. Between Janine and Chilton she thought she had enough expectations to manage. As these thoughts traveled through her mind, she felt Beaumont's dark eyes burning a tight round hole in the shoulder of her sweater.

Connie gazed down at the surface of the table and traced the out-line of the initials that had been carved there, darkened by decades of waxy polish. She roamed through the file cabinets in her brain, looking for the answer that they wanted. Where was it? She knew it was there somewhere. Was it under W, for "Witchcraft"? No. Or was it listed under G, for "Gender Issues"? She opened each mental drawer in turn, pulling out index cards by the handful, shuffling through them, and then tossing them aside. The bubble of nausea rose again in her throat. The card was gone. She could not find it. Those whispered stories about students failing, they were going to be about her. She had been given the simplest question possible, and she could not produce an answer.

She was going to fail.

A haze of panic began to cloud her vision, and Connie fought to keep her breath steady. The facts were there, she must just focus enough to see them. Facts would never abandon her. She repeated the word to herself -- facts. But wait -- she had not looked under F, for "Folk Religion, Colonial Era." She pulled the mental drawer open, and there it was! The haze cleared. Connie straightened herself against the hard chair and smiled.

"Of course," Connie began, shoving her anxiety aside. "The temptation is to begin a discussion of witchcraft in New England with the Salem panic of 1692, in which nineteen townspeople were executed by hanging. But the careful historian will recognize that panic as an anomaly, and will instead want to consider the relatively mainstream position of witchcraft in colonial society at the beginning of the seventeenth century." Connie watched the four faces nodding around the table, planning the structure of her answer according to their responses.

"Most cases of witchcraft occurred sporadically," she continued. "The average witch was a middle-aged woman who was isolated in the community, either economically or through lack of family, and so was lacking in social and political power. Interestingly, research into the kinds of maleficium" -- her tongue tangled on the Latin word, sending it out with one or two extra syllables, and she cursed inwardly for giving in to pretension -- "which witches were usually accused of reveals how narrow the colonial world really was for average people. Whereas the modern person might assume that someone who could control nature, or stop time, or tell the future, would naturally use those powers for large-scale, dramatic change, colonial witches were usually blamed for more mundane catastrophes, like making cows sick, or milk go sour, or for the loss of personal property. This microcosmic sphere of influence makes more sense in the context of early colonial religion, in which individuals were held to be completely powerless in the face of God's omnipotence." Connie paused for breath. She yearned to stretch but restrained herself. Not yet.

"Further," she continued, "the Puritans held that nothing could relia-bly indicate whether or not one's soul was saved-doing good works wouldn't cut it. So negative occurrences, like a serious illness or economic reversal, were often interpreted as signs of God's disapproval. For most people, it was preferable to blame witchcraft, an explanation out of one's own control, and embodied in a woman on the margins of society, than to consider the possibility of one's own spiritual risk. In effect, witchcraft played an important role in the New England colo-nies-as both an explanation for things not yet elucidated by science, and as a scapegoat."

"And the Salem panic?" prodded Professor Silva.

"The Salem witch trials have been explained in numerous ways," Connie said. "Some historians have argued that the trials were caused by tension between competing religious populations in Salem, the more urban port city on the one hand and the rural farm region on the other. Some have pointed to long-standing envy between family groups, with particular attention paid to the monetary demands made by an unpopular minister, Reverend Samuel Parris. And some histori-ans have even claimed that the possessed girls were hallucinating af-ter having eaten moldy bread, which can cause effects similar to those of LSD. But I see it as the last gasp of Calvinist religiosity. By the early eighteenth century, Salem had moved from being a predominantly religious community to being more diverse, more dependent on shipbuilding, fishing, and trade. The Protestant zealots who had originally settled the region were being supplanted by recent immigrants from England who were more interested in the business opportunities in the new colonies than in religion. I think that the trials were a symptom of this dynamic shift. They were also the last major outbreak of witchcraft hysteria in all of North America. In effect, the Salem panic signaled the end of an era that had had its roots in the Middle Ages."

"A very insightful analysis," commented Professor Chilton, still in his bemused, bantering tone. "But haven't you overlooked one other significant interpretation?"

Connie smiled at him, the nervous grimace of an animal fending off an attacker. "I am not sure, Professor Chilton," she answered. He was toying with her now. Connie silently begged for time to accelerate past Chilton's teasing, to catapult her instantly to Abner's Pub, where Liz and Thomas would be waiting, and where she could finally stop talking for the day. When she was tired, Connie's words sometimes ran to-gether, tumbling out in an order not fully under her control. As she watched Chilton's crafty smile she worried that she was reaching that level of fatigue. Her stupid blunder over maleficium was a hint. If only he would just let her pass...

Chilton leaned forward. "Have you not considered the distinct possibility that the accused were simply guilty of witchcraft?" he asked. He arched his eyebrows at her, fingers pointed in a small temple on the tabletop.

She watched him for a moment. A rush of irritation, even anger, sped through her. What a preposterous question! Certainly the participants in colonial witch trials believed that witches were real. But no contempo-rary scholars had ever entertained that possibility. Connie could not un-derstand why Chilton would tease her like this. Was this just his way of reinforcing how lowly she ranked in the hierarchy of academia? No matter how ludicrous it was, she had to answer, because it was Chilton doing the asking. Clearly he was too far away from his own graduate student experience to remember how dreadful this exam is. If he could remember, he would never joke with her today.

Would he?

She cleared her throat, tamping down her aggravation. Connie did not yet rank high enough in the scholarly universe to be permitted to voice her exasperation. She read not only sympathy and commiseration in Janine's narrowed eyes, but also registered her almost imperceptible nod that Connie should continue. Jump through the hoop, the nod said. You and I both know that's what it is, but you have to do it anyway.

"Well, Professor Chilton," she began, "none of the recent secondary source literature that I have read considered that to be a real possibility. The only exception that I can think of is Cotton Mather. In 1705 he wrote a famous defense of the judgments and executions at Salem, firmly believing that the courts had acted rightly to rid the town of actual, practicing witches. This was about the time that one of the judges, Samuel Sewall, published a public apology for his part in the trials. Of course, Cotton Mather, a renowned theologian, had himself officiated at the trials. Against the wishes of his equally famous theologian father, Increase Mather, I might add, who publicly condemned the Salem trials as being based on unreliable evidence. So Cotton Mather may have argued that the witchcraft at Salem was real, and that the killing of twenty people was completely justified, but he had rather a lot invested in not being wrong. Sir."

As Connie concluded her treatise she observed Chilton grinning mischievously at her across the table. In that moment she knew that the exam was over. Through the hoop she had gone, and now it was behind her. Of course she would have to go outside to await their official verdict. But at least she had come up with an answer. Now there was nothing more that she could do. She felt helpless, exhausted. What little color remained in her face ebbed, her lips fading to white.

The four professors exchanged looks in a rapid volley around their side of the table before turning their attention back to Connie. "Very well," said Professor Chilton. "If you would just step outside for a moment, please, Miss Goodwin, we will discuss your performance. Don't go far."

Withdrawing from the examination room, Connie moved through the history building shadows, her footfalls echoing off the marble floor. She settled onto an institutional lavender sofa in the central reception area, enjoying the blissful sound of quiet. She let herself sink into the cushions, twiddling the tail end of her braid under her nose like a mustache.

From inside the conference room several doors away, she heard murmured comments, too muffled for her to distinguish who was saying what. She clicked her thumbnails together, waiting.

The early evening sun slanted across the floor, splashing warmth onto her lap. Across the room she glimpsed a flash of movement as a tiny mouse disappeared into the darkness behind a drowsy potted plant. Connie smiled wanly, thinking about the unseen generations of warm life living somewhere in the history department walls, worried about nothing more momentous than leftover water crackers and care-less feet. She could almost envy a life that simple and straightforward. Silence descended over the waiting area, and Connie heard only her shallow breath.

At length she heard the door open.

"Connie? We are ready for you." It was Professor Silva. Connie sat up. For a split second she faced the certainty that the exam had gone horribly, she had failed, she would have to leave school. But then Connie saw Janine's kind face, framed with ruddy tangles of hair, break into a delighted grin. She threaded an arm around Connie's waist and whispered, "We're celebrating at Abner's after this!" And she knew that it was really about to be over.

Connie resumed her seat in the examination room. The single sunbeam was lower now, barely gracing the four pairs of folded hands that now ringed the table.

She arranged her features into a close approximation of professional coolness and detachment. No one likes a woman academic who is emotional, she reminded herself.

"After much discussion and debate," began Professor Chilton, face serious, "we would like to congratulate you on the strongest doctoral qualifying examination that we have seen in recent memory. Your responses were complete, thorough, and articulate, and we feel that you are eminently qualified to be advanced to candidacy for the Ph.D. You are more than ready to write your dissertation."

He paused for a beat while Connie processed what he had just said, the verdict working its way down through all her layers of worry.

All at once she felt the breath rush out of her in an excited hiss, and she clenched her fingers around the chair seat in an effort to channel her palpable glee into something safe, something that would not give her away. "Really?" she said aloud, looking around the table before she could stop herself.

"Of course!" piped Professor Silva, interrupting Professor Smith, who had started to say "Really excellent work, Connie."

"Most competent," concurred Professor Beaumont, and Connie smiled privately to herself. Thomas would doubt he had even said that much. Already Connie's mind was skipping ahead to the evening, when her thesis student would interrogate her about the questions that each of the professors had asked.

As the committee continued to praise her performance, Connie felt a sweet mixture of relief and fatigue rush through her arms and legs. The voices of her mentors muffled and drifted farther away as a fog of sleepiness rolled across her mind. She was about to crash. She found herself struggling to get to her feet, to spirit herself away to the safety of her friends.

"Well," she said, standing, "I can't thank you all enough. Really. This is a great way to end the semester." They all stood with her, each shaking her hand in turn and gathering up their things to leave. She nodded automatic thanks, and her hands began to scrabble for her coat. Professors Smith and Beaumont scuttled out together. Professor Silva hoisted her satchel over her head. "C'mon, kiddo," she said, knocking Connie on the shoulder. "You need a drink." Connie laughed, doubting that she would be able to withstand more than one of Abner's notorious old-fashioneds. "I should call Thomas and Liz. They demanded an immediate report," she said. "I'll meet you there?"

Professor Silva -- Janine, now, for she insisted that her graduate students call her by her first name once they had advanced to candidacy -- nodded appreciatively. "I'll bet they did," she said. "Manning, we'll talk next week." Then with a wave she was gone, the heavy paneled door closing in her wake.

Connie began to wind her scarf around her neck.

"Connie, wait a moment," said Chilton. It was more a command than a suggestion, Connie noticed with some surprise. She stopped, lowering herself back to the table.

Chilton dropped into the armchair across from Connie, beaming at her. He did not speak. Connie, unsure what he was up to, hazarded a glance as far as the polished leather elbow patch that rested in the last shard of sunlight on the table.

"I have to say that this was an incredible performance, even for you," began Chilton. As always Connie was momentarily distracted by Chilton's clipped Brahmin accent, in which the r wanders in and out of words unpredictably. Pehfohmance. It was an accent that one barely heard anymore, almost unrelated to the Boston accent that was caricatured on television. Bahston versus Behstun. Chilton himself often struck her as a sort of relic, a scarab beetle preserved in amber, not knowing that it is frozen and that time has left it behind. "Thank you, Professor Chilton," she said.

"I knew when we admitted you to this program that you would excel. Your undergraduate work at Mount Holyoke was exemplary, of course. Your coursework and teaching have both been well remarked upon." Rehmahked thought Connie, then immediately chastised herself. Pay attention! This is important!

He paused, gazing at her, index fingers pressed over his lips. "I wonder if you have started putting any thought to your dissertation topic," he said. She hesitated, caught off guard. Of course she had expected to bring him a proposal shortly after her exam, assuming she passed, but she had counted on having weeks ahead of her to think things over. However, his attention signaled to Connie that her performance had guaranteed her new status within the department. Connie's ears buzzed, like antennae that have picked up a vital piece of information written in a code that has been only half-transcribed. Academia, in many respects, forms the last bastion of medieval apprenticeship. She and Liz had discussed this idea before. The master takes the student in, educates her in his craft, shares with her the eso-teric secrets of his field. The apprentice is a kind of initiate, admitted by gradual degrees into ever higher levels of mysticism. Not that most academic subjects were very mystical anymore, of course. But, by extension, the apprentice's skill reflects on the master's own ability. Connie realized that Chilton now viewed her as a particular asset to him, and that this new level of regard came with heavier responsibility. Chilton had plans for her.

"I have a few ideas percolating, of course," she began, "but nothing set in stone. Did you have something in mind?"

He regarded her for a moment, and she could see something indistinct, almost serpentine, glimmering behind his careful, veiled eyes. Then just as suddenly the glimmer disappeared, replaced with the be-mused detachment that he habitually wore in place of an expression. He sat back in his chair, propping the top of a bony knee on the edge of the table, and waved one wrinkled hand dismissively. "Nothing as such. Only I urge you to look vigorously for new source bases. We need to think strategically about your career, my girl, and we can't do that if you are just revisiting the same old archives. A really marvelous, newly uncovered primary source can make you in this field, Connie," he said, looking sharply at her. "New. New shall be your watchword."

Watchwuhd, thought Connie. If I don't get out of here this instant I am going to say something that will truly embarrass myself. Though why he would bother to tell her to look for new source bases she could not fully understand. Perhaps later he would tell her what exactly he had in mind. "I understand, Professor Chilton. I will give this some serious thought. Thank you."

Connie stood, easing her arms into her peacoat, pulling the scarf over her nose, and tucking her braid up under a knitted pom-pom hat. Chilton nodded appreciatively. "So you're off to celebrate, then," he said, and Connie fixed him with a thin smile.

"Abner's," she confirmed, silently begging him not to come along.

"You deserve it. Enjoy yourself," he said. "We shall continue this discussion more concretely at our next meeting." He made no move to rise and follow her, instead watching as she assembled herself to reenter the crisp spring world outside. As the door closed behind her, the last narrow stripe of sunlight vanished from the window, and the conference room went dark.

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What People are saying about this

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. --Matthew Pearl, author of The Poe Shadow and The Dante Club

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The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane 3.9 out of 5 based on 1 ratings. 2045 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I waited for this to become available at the library and when it was finally in my hands, I could not stop reading it. The story alternates between the Salem Witch Trials and Connie Goodwin's, present day pursuit of her PhD at Harvard. As Connie pursues her dissertation and researches a dissertaion topic, she is drawn to her own history in Marblehead and the links that her grandmother and mother, Grace, have to the past. Connie begins to look for an old physick book that purportedly belonged to Deliverance Dane and while trying to find the antiquated book, she finds that she may have some exceptional witchy talents of her own. If you have been to the Salem and Marblehead areas, there is such a sense of history there and one can really believe that the magical might exist today. I totally enjoyed the book and recommend it highly.
kren250 More than 1 year ago
First, the good: I really liked the cover, especially the back flap that can be used to mark your page. A nice extra touch! I also think this book would be a great choice if you're looking for some escapism reading this summer. It's a fast and easy read that doesn't require much effort on the reader's part. It would be a nice book to take to the beach or the swimming pool. Now, the bad: I thought the plot was very predictable; you can tell well in advance what is going to happen. This, unfortunately, turned me off the book early on, as I'm a person who likes to be surprised when reading this type of mystery/thriller book. Also, I did not find the main character very believable, mostly because she's a smart person yet misses so many obvious clues. However, even though the book was not a hit for me, I'm glad I read it since I do think it will be a very popular book:-). It's always fun to see what all the hype is about. Thank you Barnes and Nobles First Look program for including me, and thank you to all (including Ms. Howe and the editor) who made it such an interesting discussion!
soullight More than 1 year ago
I was enthusiastic about this book. I had heard so much about it. It was slow and the only thing worth reading was Sam's accident. I wanted so much more. I wanted Connie to learn so much more about her family history that ran in the feminine side. Learn more of her gifts and about her mother Grace. I was disappointed, when I finished it I felt empty.
Readsalot45 More than 1 year ago
Where should I start? The one-dimensional charachters? The transparent plot? The hackneyed writing? From page one you will be able to see exactly where this novel is going, and when it finally arrives, you will not care. The most convenient set ups include: (1.) Connie's college roommate just happens to be a latin professor. (2.) Connie's love interest just happens to me a handyman with a masters degree. (There are tons of those running around these days.) (3.) The nefarious "Harvard History Department Head" believes in magic. (4.) Connie doesn't realize her connection to past witches, forgetting her full name for the entire novel - Deliverance, Mercy, Prudence, Grace, and finally Connie a.k.a. Constance. I could keep going, but none of it matters. It shouldn't take you more than an afternoon to read this, and you won't remember what you read two days after you've finished.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was excited about this book b/c it encompassed many things I am interested in. Great locale, interesting time period, witch trials. The book started strong, but felt it dragged out too long. You could predict the ending about 100 pages before the end.
jeanniejeanne More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. I'd been in a reading rut---too much of the same things, nothing seeming new. I saw this book at a friend's house and read the cover and headed right out to buy ti. I wasn't disappointed. I loved the way the story of the past was woven together with the present (1991). I enjoyed the character of Connie, and laughed at her mother. I was captivated by the story of the past. I could picture everything the author wrote. I recommend this book.
AJIN More than 1 year ago
There are so many little errors that I find so distracting. From the first page when the writer calls the soup lentil and then split pea (two entirely different legumes) to a hidden yard with a flourishing garden despite not being tended for 20 years, it just seems a bit forced.
NearPerfect More than 1 year ago
An examination of the "Salem Witchcraft" times. A look into the past with a twist. Very, Very enjoyable. Great for a Bookclub and I sent 2 as presents to different friends. I am sure they will enjoy the bits of history and the quest to understand an ancestor.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book started reallllllly slow, and it took a lot of effort to read and get into, turned out to be a good book, but you really have to try and get through the first few chapters!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed reading the first half of this book but, once modern magic came into the story, it totally lost me and left me disappointed. It was a bit slow during certain chapters and felt overdone most of the time. Many aspects were very predictable and felt a bit forced. I was really hoping there would be more historical facts but ended the book feeling as though I knew nothing more about the witch trials than when I started. Wouldn't recommend it.
JulieC82 More than 1 year ago
I was excited when Barnes and Noble First Look Club presented Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, The as their next choice. I was even more excited when I was able to read the book. This is a stunning debut novel. The Salem witch trials have always fascinated me but imagine realizing that you were related to one of those condemned and hanged. Connie Goodwin is a a Graduate student that has just passed her oral exams and will be starting her PH.d. Her mom calls and tells her that she needs a favor, she needs Connie to go to her family's home in Marblehead and get it ready to sell. This is the beginning of Connie's adventure into her personal history and the history of the Salem Witch Trials. Not only do we get to know Connie's story but we get to meet Deliverance Dane and her family. The book shifts back and forth between present day (1991) and history (1692-1715) which allows the reader to begin to put the puzzle pieces together before Connie. I enjoyed reading the different voices of the story since it spread over hundreds of years. You definitely get a real sense of the time period by the way Ms. Howe describes the clothing, the home, the furniture and the attitudes. I love authors who are very descriptive without being wordy and Ms. Howe is definitely one of them. I could vividly picture the house on Milk Street, the Salem Meetinghouse, Deliverance's house and Harvard. Without these descriptions the book would have fallen flat. The supporting characters are just as interesting as Connie. Her mom Grace is a trip, Sam, Liz and of course Arlo the dog. My only complaint is that the climax came in the last 50 pages and ended too quickly. We were there and then it was over. I guess I didn't want the book to end. There are aspects of the book that are predictable but that didn't bother me because of the story and the way it was written. For fans of Charmed: The Complete Series, Harry Potter Boxset Books 1-7 and The Craft (Special Edition) you will thoroughly enjoy this book. If not, it's still a fantastic story about a period in American history where things that weren't true to their religious beliefs were deemed witchcraft. It calls into question what is witchcraft and how does it different in the time periods explored in the book? This book has made me want to go and pull out my copy of Arthur Miller's The Crucible (Penguin Classics) and revisit this time period. This book will be released by Voice on 6/9/09. I recommend adding it to your wish list.
Fyrehaire More than 1 year ago
I had high hopes for this novel, as the cover art and the story premise on the jacket blurb were intriguing. However, I found the writing to be forced and the plot terribly predictable. The interweaving of past and present was well done and worked well for this story. Unfortunately, the author wrote this story more like a research paper with a fictional twist, as opposed to a well researched fictional story. The language, especially the descriptions, tended to be cluttered with an over abundance of detail, which strangled the prose's flow and made reading tedious at times. Overall, not a horrible first effort; but I was disappointed in its wasted potential.
MarieBurton More than 1 year ago
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane is a mouthful of a title, isn't it? The unique title and cover of this book is an eye catcher, and this book early on has created a stir in the virtual world. Barnes & Noble used this book as their First Look title in April, (it boasts 4.5 stars here) where they hosted a forum for Q&A with the author and discussed the book which was all very interesting. You can follow along here on the web: B&N Board The title itself is referring to a "recipe" book, or a book of spells or magical ideas (that has yet to be found in the USA), that once belonged to a person named Deliverance Dane. The main character of the book, Connie Goodwin, is a highly intelligent grad student who is asked by her hippie mom to go visit the old abandoned house in Marblehead, MA that the granny left behind. The house is stuck in time, forgotten by overgrowth and enveloped by shadows and Connie's task is to clean it up and prepare it to sell so that they do not have to pay the taxes on it any longer. Connie doesn't know much about the house, and she is in for a treat of dirt and dust and grime, yet immediately she finds a key hidden in an old Bible which starts her journey to find out the connection between this key and the horrendous times of the Salem Witch trials. The subject matter has always been popular and Connie does not have much trouble finding information in the town regarding the people that were affected by the Salem Witch Trials. Connie also meets a gorgeous guy along the way, and the romance adds a bit to the story while making Connie a little more human to the reader. Otherwise, Connie is truly out of my league with her big college words and exhaustive knowledge that she likes to recite regarding the history of the Salem Witch Trials. Thankfully the author is talented enough with her prose that we do not feel that we are imbeciles. Connie's advisor for her Ph.D. is a character that also adds to the story, as he adds a bit of creepiness. (I certainly didn't like him!) The plot is very intriguing, and the events are as fast-paced as they can plausibly be, with the added benefit of flashbacks to the very period of the 1690's that Connie is researching. Here we get snippets of a narration from the Dane family themselves, and a look into a witch trial as it occurs. It was not disarming at all to read the dialect of the Massachusetts citizens, where it would phonetically present itself such as "here" replaced by "heah" which I really think added to the nuance of the story. There was the factor of predictability in the story, but the author captures us in the moment as we root for Connie to uncover the mystery. As mentioned, Connie is supposed to be quite intelligent, and the reader understands the underlying story more than she does due to the flashbacks we are privy to, so that can be a drag for some people. Connie's advisor also helpfully calls into question "What if the accused really were witches?" which goes against most of the modern thoughts on the subject. I enjoyed reading about the Salem Witch Trials, although not really learning anything earth shattering, but since it was such an easy and fun read I recommend this to anyone in the mood for a good novel. It was a fascinating part of our American History, and the fact that the author herself is a known descendant from two of the main figures of the history made this a compelling adaptation of it.
LivetoRead765 More than 1 year ago
This book was an unexpected surprise as I found the author to be the subject. It seems in writing the book she discovered herself. The style was back and forth from past to present and I enjoyed it so much as she found her self and the past of her family within her own research for the book. Believeable and totally enjoyable.
springermph More than 1 year ago
The idea was great but I don't think it ever got around to exploring the idea fully-what if the accused women of the Salem witch trials were really "cunning women". And what would be the ramifications of this interpretation of history? Howe leaves much of this unexplored and instead has us follow Connie through her life as a graduate student. Connie's research was very fluffy and it seemed like she just kept getting lucky in her leads. One would think a PhD candidate should have more solid skills. The interludes from the 1690s are what I enjoyed the most. Howe did a wonderful job describing what was happening and really made the character's stories jump off the page. When it was time to return to Connie's story, I would become a bit disgruntled. The story was also predictable. I couldn't tell if it the author wanted to go in the direction of a feminist account of the Salem witch trials, a soft thriller/romance, or a fantasy filled with spells and unexplained happenings. I found myself not believing that Connie could heal or was able to do magic because she was a skeptic the entire time. I thought this part of the novel was very forced and thrown in at the end. This book was just ok, boring actually, and it took some effort to get through it.
snowflakeinannapolis More than 1 year ago
This was a referral from a friend in the industry and I was so disappointed. I love the idea and the time period, but the book just wandered into cliched territory instead of being the fresh point of view that I hoped it would be.
Lisa_in_SoCal More than 1 year ago
Wow! Awesome first book by Howe. Even though it's about the Salem Witch Trials, it's a unique perspective on the story. Intriguing because it's told through the research of a grad student. Very intellectual and compelling. Gets a little crazy in the end, but in a few, hold-your-attention kind of way. Can't wait to read Howe's next!
J3nnif3r8 More than 1 year ago
It's cliche, but true, I couldn't put this book down! The book jacket alone made me want to run home and start reading. Connie, the main character, is easy to empathize with since she is a graduate student dealing with the drama of a thesis, unrealistic professors and their expectations, and an "out there" mother. Each of these demanding aspects become even more weighted on Connie when she has to clean out her late grandmother's home while just beginning her research. Her foil, Sam, is a great male character who really helps the reader to understand her character. Connie finds a key and a name inside a seventeenth century Bible in her grandmother's home and the story begins. The name "Deliverance Dane" leads Connie to meet Sam, unmask her professor's true motives, and discover her hidden talents and family lineage. Bringing in historical facts from the witch trials, the author creates a fictional story for the women who suffered in 1692 from the accusations of the bewitched girls. The only complaint I have is that the key that is found in the Bible is never used to unlock anything. It seems to be forgotten about. Besides this trivial fact, the book is well written, stylistically, and made me want to find out the significance of the name found in the book. It is a great read when you want to get lost in seventeenth century New England.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Interesting premise, atrocious writing. As I was reading, I couldn't help but think that Howe used a thesaurus to insert bigger words that were more dramatic than the story called for. The characters were difficult to sympathize with because the writing was so clunky and the plot was not believable.
misbumble More than 1 year ago
The book promised a great mystery and hooked me from the beginning. Unfortunately- that was the only strong point of the book. The reading became laborious and the ending was, in a word, ridiculous. I felt insulted by the conclusion that seemed to just be tacked on the end to force a conclusion. In a word- skip it.
AJCronin More than 1 year ago
I am six chapters into this book but will probably not continue reading it much longer. I had heard so much buzz about the book and was so excited to get it but have found it to be a huge disappointment. The writing, itself, is embarassing but I was hoping that perhaps the story would be worth it. So far, this has not been the case. There are too many other books out there waiting to be read to spend much more time on this one waiting for it to become interesting. I will give it four more chapters and then it's history -- no pun intended. This book cannot even begin to compare with "The Heretic's Daughter".
janners7 More than 1 year ago
This book is a nice try for a first novel; I found the plot engaging and interesting for the first 2/3 of the book. Connie is going for her Ph.D. in American Colonial history. She also, after defending her thesis, finds herself the new caretaker of her grandmother's house, close to Harvard. She finds a key with a name, Deliverance Dane. This key leads her on an adventure while she discovers who Deliverance Dane was and what her life was like. I liked the book, but it was clear from the family history section of the novel where the story was going. I felt like Howe didn't know how to put an end to the novel, so she gave up and the result was mediocre. Still, a good.
austinWI More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. The characters will keep you entertained and it really is good for a rainy day. I have never been interested in this type of fiction before but Katherine Howe does an excellent job of really keeping you absorbed in the plot.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
For those who like history, witchcraft and other sorcery, this is a wonderful book. The characters and storyline are woven between current and past, real and surreal. The book is an easy read and hard to put down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Witchcraft, a "used and abused" subject matter. . . . . in this case used successfully. A well written book, fortunately not too predictable. Good entertainment.