Thursday, December 3, 2009

Review:The Lost Book of Salem by Katherine Howe

Title: The Lost Book of Salem
Author: Katherine Howe
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Penguin, 2009
467 p.
Originally published in the US with the title The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane.

Synopsis: 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 house 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 17th 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 than she could ever have imagined.

Well written and well researched I enjoyed this book although I felt it did have some flaws.

Set in dual time periods the author manages the chapter changes between the 1690's and 1990's effortlessly which keeps the pace flowing well.

I preferred the historical segments : Deliverance Dane is a compelling character that you have to sympathise with and it wasn't hard to become involved in her story. Most readers will have some knowledge of the Salem witch trials so I like the way Ms Howe added her own original twist to provide a new perspective on the craft of these so called witches.

Even with the addition of a romantic interest and a very obvious 'bad guy' the contemporary part of the story was a let down. Apart from the old house and garden , the descriptions of which I loved .
The constant emphasis on the different pronunciation of words is unnecessary, except for one occasion, and became increasingly irritating. You say tomahto, I say who cares!
A little too much intellectual stuff........sometimes Connie shows signs of being an academic snob and to be honest I didn't feel she was someone I would be drawn to. I far preferred her mother, Grace,and Arlo, the dog. The theme of family relationships , particularly the often difficult mother/daughter one, runs through the generations along with the inherited gift of healing.

Connie is a young woman who is beginning to grow up and discover, through her relationships with Sam and her mother , that there is more to life than academic achievement and recognition.

History, some romance, some suspense and supernatural all rolled up together to make an easy and pleasant read which most people will find enjoyable.

Rating 4 ****


  1. It sounds like she did a good job of weaving the two threads of the story together, but one thread was stronger than the other. Thank you for your eloquent and balanced review.

  2. Thanks, Laughing Stars and you're quite right- that's exactly how I felt about it.

  3. Enjoyed your review, this one is on my wishlist so I appreciate having realistic expectations :-)