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"THE PHYSICK BOOK OF DELIVERANCE DANE" by Katherine Howe, Voice, 384 pages, $25.99

Whether it be the Wiccan religion or pop culture, today the world of witches and warlocks is more accepted as part of society.

But that has not always been the case.

In 1692, witch hysteria gripped the Puritan community of Salem, Mass. During a yearlong period, more than 150 people were arrested and imprisoned, ending with the conviction of 29 people for the capital felony of witchcraft.

In the end, 19 people were executed by hanging, a man was crushed to death under heavy stones and at least five more died in prison.

Author Katherine Howe, a descendant of two accused witches (one was found guilty, the other was not), offers an up-close look at 17th-century witchcraft through the lens of a 20th-century grad student in "The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane."

Connie Goodwin loves American history. She loves it so much that she's decided to make it her career. All she has left to do is her Ph.D. dissertation at Cambridge. But, as the old adage goes, even the best-made plans have a way of falling apart.

When Connie receives a surprise phone call from her mom, she feels compelled to help with the sale of her grandmother's old home in Marblehead. Upon arrival, though, Connie finds the cottage in a state of disrepair.

Abandoned when Connie's grandmother died, nothing in the home has been touched for more than 20 years.

Overwhelmed with the task at hand, Connie starts with what she knows best — books.

While exploring the bookshelves she discovers an ancient key with a slip of paper rolled up inside. On the paper are written two words that will change Connie's life forever: Deliverance Dane.

Connie's curiosity is sufficiently peaked, and with the backing of her adviser, researching Deliverance Dane becomes a top priority. Along the way, Connie meets a handsome steeplejack named Sam who becomes a welcome distraction as she puzzles out the clues.

Everything seems to be falling into place, but something isn't right. Connie begins having visions, and when a dear friend suddenly falls ill, Connie can't help but wonder if there's more to Deliverance Dane's tale than even she ever imagined.

Comment on this story

In "Physick Book," the mystery surrounding Deliverance Dane spans three centuries, shifting between the 1690s and the 1990s with seamless ease.

Howe brings excitement to the research process, which can be dull to those outside of academia. The events surrounding the Salem trial are fascinating, and Howe's individualized look at that world is in-depth and imaginative.

Howe's prose is sound and her writing is accessibly fast, making "Physick Book" a good bet for a light, entertaining read.

E-mail: jharrison@desnews.com