Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Review: The Devlin Diary, by Christi Phillips

I seem to be on a 17th-century streak. First it was The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, then it was The Long Shadow… and now it’s The Devlin Diary, by Christi Phillips.

The story operates in a split time narrative. One strand of the story follows that of Hannah Devlin, a young, widowed, female physician in 1672 London. Threatened with imprisonment for practicing without license, Hannah becomes physician to Louise de Keroualle, mistress to King Charles II and afflicted with the clap. Pretty soon, dead men turn up on London, strange figures carved on their chests.

The other story follows that of Claire Donovan, who first appeared in The Rossetti Letter. Here, Claire has accepted a position as lecturer at Trinity College, Cambridge, through the influence of Andrew Kent. Claire has a run-in with another fellow, who one day turns up dead. Soon, it becomes clear that the murder in the present day is connected with those of the past, and Claire finds herself, like Hannah, investigating murder.

I really enjoyed this book. Although Hannah is a little bit modern and feminist, I really enjoyed reading her story. The story that takes place in the present isn’t quite as compelling, but I thought the author’s transitions from one time to another were really well done. I guess my biggest problem with this novel were the scenes set in the present day. While the author did an excellent job researching the Restoration, she seems to have completely skipped over doing her research for the modern-day story. The British characters weren’t really British in the way they talked (for example, two different characters say that someone is “in the hospital,” when a real English person would say “in hospital,” unless talking about a specific place). Also, I thought the murder in the present day was a little tacked on, and the murderer (and their motive) gave me cause to scratch my head.

This book is sort of a sequel to The Rossetti Letter; references are made to that book throughout The Devlin Diary, but I felt that not reading The Rossetti Letter was a detriment to my enjoying the story of this book. As I said, I enjoyed the historical parts of this novel the most; it’s too bad that the author didn’t choose to focus solely on Hannah’s story.

Also reviewed by: Books 'N Border Collies, S Krishna Books, The Tome Traveller's Weblog, Shh I'm Reading


Alyce said...

It sounds like an interesting storyline. I've read several books that have split storylines where one far outshines the other. At least the segment in the past was good to read. I haven't read anything by this author before.

S. Krishna said...

I definitely want to read this one. Thanks for the review!

teabird said...

This book has the same problem (apparently...) as People of the Book, which I'm just finishing. I love the backstories - they seem really well-researched without being pedantic, and the characters are quite real. It's the present characters who are rather fuzzy and uninteresting!

The only book that comes to mind that doesn't have this problem is Possession.


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