The Devlin Diary

I just finished a fascinating book, called The Devlin Diary, by Christi Phillips. How fascinating you might ask and I would tell you that it was fascinating enough to take my mind off the abscessed tooth that plagued me last week. I had a bad reaction to some medicine for said tooth and took to my bed for a couple of days, too fretful and ill to do much of anything. When I could dredge up any modicum of concentration I lost myself in the Devlin Diary, a book that contains two, two, two mysteries in one!

The story takes place in two time periods, one contemporary and one in the court of King Charles, the King Charles who has a little dog with bulgy eyes named after him. Hannah Devlin is a physician who isn't legally allowed to practice. As her story begins, the year is 1672 and London is still trying to recover from the Great Fire and the plague, which has been flaring up for hundreds of years. Hannah spends her days treating the poor residents of her neighborhood, taking care of her ill mother and struggling against daily debilitating headaches. One day as she is returning from the apothecary she is snatched up by a representative of King Charles' court who wants her to treat the King's mistress, a young lady who is suffering from an unmentionable disease given to her by the King.

Of course just knowing about this disease puts Hannah in a dangerous position where she is at the mercy of the King and his courtiers, who are all masters of gossip and intrigue. But that's not all that is endangering her and hers; a series of horrific, ritual murders are happening around her. She meets a handsome, bright anatomist called Edward Strathern during a tense surgery mandated by the capricious King. Edward is at first dismayed by her status as a practicing female physician, then later impressed with her skills. The two grow close as he performs postmortems on the murder victims and they try to decipher the meaning of the mysterious symbols carved into the victims' flesh.

I realize that sounds a little freaky, as though they're both fetishists who are interested in chopping mutilated people up, but that's not how it works. It's more that they're both very clever people who are intrigued by their findings and delighted to discover kindred spirits who are willing to discuss that which society has placed off limits. Hannah is also thrilled to find a man who doesn't look at her askance for practicing medicine. Her father and her husband were supportive but they've both passed away, leaving her alone in a world where women are second class citizens at best.

Meanwhile, a few hundred years in the future, Claire Donovan, an American historian, is thrilled to begin teaching at Trinity College in Cambridge. Although she's a bit dismayed by her heavy workload, she is also researching a paper she plans to write and publish, in order to further her academic career. She's intrigued to discover a diary written in code and sets to work transcribing the diary. But when it vanishes and a colleague is murdered, she and her mentor Andrew Kent, a man she is crushing on, go in search of the diary and the secrets it can reveal.

I had concerns that this book was going to be a romantic version of the Da Vinci Code, (a book I can't abide) what with the coded messages and intrigue, but luckily they had very little in common. The Devlin Diary is fast paced, engaging and travels easily from storyline to storyline without being confusing. I preferred the parts that took place in the past, they seemed to flow a little more smoothly, but that may just be me. I'm not that into scenes where someone is pining over someone else, wondering if they LIKE like them. Just go ahead and ask already. I much prefer Hannah's emotional turmoil, which seems like a weirdly cruel thing to say. This is really a minor quibble as the book over all is a strong, fun read.

You can read an excerpt, see the book club guide and watch a video here: http://books.simonandschuster.com/9781416527398

One-Paragraph Review

This week's one-paragraph review is a little different. It started as a tweet from Cherie Priest, author of the fabulous Eden series, who very kindly gave permission for me to quote her. "Re: ANGELS AND DEMONS - Me and Indiana Jones could've solved that "mystery" in ten minutes flat. Or just me, in about twenty." You can read a couple of my thoughts about Four and Twenty Blackbirds by Ms. Priest here: http://qualitytimeweekly.com/content/random-books-and-movies. Do you have a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me for consideration. You can reach me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com.