Monday, June 01, 2009

A Perfect 10: THE DEVLIN DIARY by Christi Phillips

THE DEVLIN DIARY - Christi Phillips
A Perfect 10
Pocket (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 1-4165-2739-7
ISBN-13: 978-1-4165-2739-8
Historical Fiction

England during the Restoration and Present Day

American Claire Donovan has her hard-won Ph.D. and has been hired to teach history at the prestigious Trinity College in Cambridge, England. Andrew Kent, a Trinity fellow whom she met while finishing her thesis studies in Italy, has pulled strings and gotten her this post. Due to school requirements, Claire begins to do research on a new topic, encryption --- as her fascination with ciphers and codes is piqued when she finds a coded diary written during the reign of Charles II. All of her work, though, is brought to a halt when one of the Trinity fellows is found dead in the River Cam. And not just any fellow, but Dr. Derek Goodman, a rakish rogue who had recently stolen the diary that Claire found and gleefully revealed to her that he was going to write on the same topic.

In 1672, with Charles II on the throne, London is a city recovering from many aftershocks. The Civil War is behind it now, as is the great fire of 1666, and the world is changing, although not necessarily for the better. Bodies are turning up that have been mutilated and left with puzzling marks on them. Strangely, no one seems to be questioning the coincidences of the murders except two people, Hannah Devlin, a physician trained by her father, a court physician who was murdered, and another doctor, Edward Strathern, who has done post mortems on two of the victims.

What do murders in two different centuries have in common? That's what Claire and Andrew want to know after discovering that Derek, not well liked by his fellow staff members, had found links to the seventeenth century murders. The more information they discover about Derek and his antics, the more Claire and Andrew need to find that diary and decipher the code.

THE DEVLIN DIARY is one of the best books I've read this year. It's fast-paced, exhilarating, and beautifully researched. The transition from the twenty-first century to the seventeenth is done brilliantly with no loss of continuity between eras. Characters in both centuries are well drawn and realistic. Hannah, who has severe headaches and keeps dosing herself with poppy syrup, has to keep her focus on the dangers she's investigating with Edward. Claire and Andrew have to use all of their historical know-how to get to the bottom of Derek's murder --- and there are several twists and turns during both centuries' searches.

Much like her first book, THE ROSETTI LETTER, Ms. Phillips devotes chapters to each mystery, subtly linking them. Readers will think they've discovered the killer that Hannah is trying to find several times, but the author keeps us on our toes! THE DEVLIN DIARY grabbed me at the first page and kept me riveted to the story until the very satisfying, and surprising, conclusion. I cannot recommend this book highly enough, which is why I've given it a Perfect 10. Christi Phillips is an author I will follow!

Jani Brooks