Monday, June 29, 2009

Book Review #7 and Blog Tour: THE DEVLIN DIARY by Christi Phillips

by Christi Phillips

Product Details:
Pocket, May 2009
Hardcover, 448 pages
ISBN-10: 1416527397
ISBN-13: 9781416527398

Description (from the publisher)

From the acclaimed author of The Rossetti Letter comes a dazzling novel of intrigue, passion, and royal secrets that shifts tantalizingly between Restoration-era London and present-day Cambridge.

London, 1672. The past twelve years have brought momentous changes: the restoration of the monarchy, a devastating plague and fire. Yet the city remains a teeming, thriving metropolis, energized by the lusty decadence of Charles II's court and burgeoning scientific inquiry. Although women enjoy greater freedom, they are not allowed to practice medicine, a restriction that physician Hannah Devlin evades by treating patients that most other doctors shun: the city's poor.

But Hannah has a special knowledge that Secretary of State Lord Arlington desperately needs. At the king's Machiavellian court, Hannah attracts the attention of two men, charming courtier Ralph Montagu and anatomist Dr. Edward Strathern, as well as the attention of the powerful College of Physicians, which views her work as criminal. When two influential courtiers are found brutally murdered, their bodies inscribed with arcane symbols, Hannah is drawn into a dangerous investigation by Dr. Strathern, who believes the murders conceal a far-reaching conspiracy that may include Hannah's late father and the king himself.

Cambridge, 2008. Teaching history at Trinity College is Claire Donovan's dream come true -- until one of her colleagues is found dead on the banks of the River Cam. The only key to the professor's unsolved murder is a seventeenth century diary kept by his last research subject, Hannah Devlin, physician to the king's mistress. With help from the eclectic collections of Cambridge's renowned libraries, Claire and historian Andrew Kent follow the clues Devlin left behind, uncovering secrets of London's dark past and Cambridge's equally murky present, and discovering that events of three hundred years ago may still have consequences today....

A suspenseful and richly satisfying tale brimming with sharply observed historical detail, The Devlin Diary brings past and present to vivid life. With wit and grace, Christi Phillips holds readers spellbound with an extraordinary novel of secrets, obsession, and the haunting power of the past.

My rating: 4/5 Strongly recommended.

My thoughts:

Call me an Anglophile, but I love historical fiction set anywhere in the British Isles. So when I was offered the opportunity to read and review Christi Phillips new novel, THE DEVLIN DIARY, I jumped at the chance – and I’m glad I did! Remember that old commercial for Certs breath mints – “two, two, two mints in one!” Well, with THE DEVLIN DIARY, you get two, two, two books in one!

The first story, the historical one, is set in Restoration England. I haven’t read much about the reign of King Charles II, so it was fun to delve into some new-to-me history. I liked the main character, Hannah, immediately. She is an intelligent and knowledgeable woman living in a time when even those privileged few with access to the best education are hobbled by the limitations of contemporary scientific, philosophical, sociological, and religious thought. To work as a physician, Hannah must struggle against a tide of sexism and superstition.

The second story, that of Claire Donovan, is set in present day Cambridge at Trinity College. Maybe not surprisingly, she too is faced with an abundance of sexism as she settles in as a temporary lecturer amongst the almost all male faculty. Claire’s character was introduced in the author’s first novel, THE ROSSETTI LETTER, in which she meets historian Andrew Kent while conducting research in Italy for her PhD dissertation on the life of a Venetian courtesan. It is through that relationship that she lands such a coveted appointment at the prestigious and exclusive Trinity College. Unfortunately, the character of Claire always seems to be a bit out of her element. Granted, she's an American trying to fit in among the British (and that makes for some funny scenes and dialogue). However, for a research historian with a PhD under her belt, she comes across as a bit dense and, basically, often seems to be in over her head. She is likable, though -- perhaps she just needs more real-life experience. (Did I just say that about a fictional character?)

I do wish that I’d read THE ROSSETTI LETTER first. Don’t get me wrong, THE DEVLIN DIARY can be read as a stand alone novel, but I would have enjoyed “getting to know” Claire Donovan through reading about her experiences in that first case rather than being “brought up to date” in her second. I think that when I do read the first novel (and I will!), I’ll miss some of the fun of discovery. If you haven’t already read THE ROSSETTI LETTER, and if you have any inclination to do so, I would definitely recommend that you read that book first.

All in all, THE DEVLIN DIARY is a wonderful read. There’s plenty of interesting period detail worked skillfully into the narrative of the historical sections. The scenes are vividly drawn and atmospheric - you won’t forget that the narrow little streets are either cobblestone or mud! The murder mystery aspects are compellingly intricate, and the characters engaging and complex. While I somewhat preferred the historical sections of the novel over the present day sections, I'm looking forward to whatever intrigue Claire Donovan stumbles upon next!

Thank you to Simon & Schuster Pocket Books for my review copy.

About the Author: Christi Phillips is the author of The Rossetti Letter, which has been translated into six foreign languages. Her research combines a few of her favorite things: old books, libraries, and travel. When she’s not rummaging around in an archive or exploring the historic heart of a European city, she lives with her husband in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she is at work on her next novel, set in France.


Simon & Schuster has a lovely multimedia website where you can:

Read an interview with Christi Phillips.

Watch a short video

Access the Reading Group Guide.

Read an Excerpt: Chapter 1

Check out what these other bloggers on the tour have to say:

S. Krishna’s Books
All About {n}
Jenn’s Bookshelf
Beth Fish Reads
Booking Mama
The Literate Housewife Review
Book Soulmates
Chick With Books
Gimme More Books
We Be Reading
Book Bird Dog
Bookin’ with “BINGO”
My Friend Amy
Books and Needlepoint
A Working Title
Must Read Faster
Shhh I’m Reading
Debbie’s World of Books
The Tome Traveller’s Weblog
Write for a Reader
I Heart Monster
Pick of the Literate
Kingdom Books Blog
Drey’s Library
The Jaydit Reader
A Book Bloggers Diary


bermudaonion said...

Another great review of this book. It's going on my wish list.

Fiona said...

This book is already on my list. Thanks for the great review.

Diane said...

this looks great. i have it in my stacks. good review.

Dar said...

Great review! I'd love to read this one-it's been on my wishlist for a while. Glad you enjoyed it.

throuthehaze said...

throuthehaze at gmail dot com

Zibilee said...

I've read a couple of other reviews of this book, and think that it sounds wonderful. I have put it on my wish list and hope I can get to it soon. Great review!

Amy @ Passages to the Past said...

That was one great review, thank you! I'm adding these two books to the wishlist!! I LOVE reading about the time of Charles II.