A little magic, some Salem history, and a missing book being traced through multiple generations of uniquely gifted women; The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane is a fictionalized account of a book containing recipes to heal just about anything. For me, the setting was the lure. Our main character, Connie, studies at Harvard and spends the one particular summer where we meet her in Marblehead, Mass. She's also in-and-out of Salem and Boston - my old stomping ground. So, the setting drew me in, but the story itself kept me speeding through the story.
The narrative shifts between the generations of women who have owned the Physick Book and Connie's search to find the book which has been lost for a few centuries. I'd say present-day when referring to Connie's part of the story, but her portion actually takes place in the early 90's, a more fitting setting since the lack of technology in everyday life at this time plays perfectly within in the story. Cell phones and laptop computers are replaced with pay phones and card catalogues.
Connie is in search of the Physick Book in order to uncover a new, original source from the Salem witch trials that will help launch her academic career. We see Connie's path to locate the book at the same as flashbacks to how the book was used centuries ago.
The great thing about this mystery story is it's not just about the mystery. Howe puts as much energy into her characters as she does the book and its historical context. We meet Connie's roommate, mom, academic advisor, grad student she's mentoring, and more as fully-formed characters (not just tiny side pieces). We get flashbacks into Connie's own memories as she begins to put the book's mystery together so we learn more about her beyond her search. Even Connie's Grandmother's house, Connie's home base in the novel, feels like a character. Howe doesn't assume that solving the mystery will be enough for the reader - she gives you so much more to be interested in.
Then, there's the element of magic. It's so subtle and yet important. No wands or any big fanfare, it just feels real. Unlike other books, the magic here is just an additive to our world, not some secret layer existing alongside the reality we know. It's something organic and feels like it belongs.
This book combines so many genres - historical fiction, mystery, fantasy - that is really does have something for everyone.