Following the lives of two women, one in 1672 London and the other in 2008 Cambridge, the reader is taken on a journey of murder, mystery and English court intrigue in THE DEVLIN DIARY.
Hannah Devlin is probably one of the best practicing physicians in London in 1672 when Lord Arlington, King Charles’s secretary of state, essentially abducts her. Arlington is one of the most powerful men in London after the king, and he needs her to attend to the king's favorite mistress. Hannah has no desire to be at court after her father was unceremoniously removed from his position as the king's physician a few years back, but she has no other choice. At the time, women were not permitted to practice medicine publicly, and she is reminded by Arlington that her refusal to help him and, in turn, the king will mean prison --- a threat she knows he will make good on. She begins treating the king's mistress for a rather embarrassing malady and becoming part of the royal scene. Swallowing her distaste for court life, she goes about her work hoping to be granted leave when the mistress is recovered, but soon finds herself involved in events that hit very close to home for her.
Claire Donovan, a new historian at Trinity College in 2008, is searching the stacks at the library when she comes across a book she believes is a coded diary. Excited by its hidden secrets and in need of a topic for a paper she must publish in her time as a fellow at the school, she delves into it more deeply, unaware of the conspiracy she has set in motion with the discovery of Hannah’s diary. With few friends and the one person she would like to spend time with ignoring her, Claire accepts an invitation to dinner from a well-known professor named Derek Goodman. At dinner she unknowingly gives away her research topic and soon finds herself the subject of great discussion and interest by professors, fellows and students. Claire also manages to embroil herself, and the institution, in much more trouble than she ever fancied she would as an historian with the discovery of the diary that contains information of great interest to a colleague.
Hannah Devlin’s story is one of sadness, hardship, duty, and finally love. Although not officially a courtesan, she finds herself at court longer than she cares for as it takes her away from her true passion of caring for the sick. When she meets Dr. Edward Strathern at court, her life takes a turn she didn't think possible. Claire Donovan's tale, while a bit less dramatic and harrowing considering a good portion of Claire's time is spent in the library, moves the story along and answers many of the questions left by the diary.
Christi Phillips takes readers on a wild chase through London streets, court conspiracies, and the stacks at Trinity College. The audience will not find the time shifts confusing as they take place seamlessly, although in some cases, readers will feel anxious to return to Hannah's story as it is the more interesting of the two.
Phillips's talent lies in the details. She pulls together a rich tale set in 1672 London. One can clearly picture this London, smell the rank Fleet River, and feel sympathy for Hannah and all she has lost. Her descriptions of the inventions of the time and the characters she has assembled are marvelous. She delivers a story full of historical suspense. In fact, you'll wish there was more of her take on the time period she describes so wonderfully. She enchants readers with her world and the detail in which she has immersed it.
Reviewed by Amy Gwiazdowski on December 29, 2010
The Devlin Diary