The Orphanmaster

The Orphanmaster

3.8 23
by Jean Zimmerman
     
 

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From a debut novelist, a gripping historical thriller and rousing love story set in seventeenth-century Manhattan

It’s 1663 in the tiny, hardscrabble Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, now present-day southern Manhattan. Orphan children are going missing, and among those looking into the mysterious state of affairs are a quick-witted

Overview

From a debut novelist, a gripping historical thriller and rousing love story set in seventeenth-century Manhattan

It’s 1663 in the tiny, hardscrabble Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, now present-day southern Manhattan. Orphan children are going missing, and among those looking into the mysterious state of affairs are a quick-witted twenty-two-year-old trader, Blandine von Couvering, herself an orphan, and a dashing British spy named Edward Drummond.

Suspects abound, including the governor’s wealthy nephew, a green-eyed aristocrat with decadent tastes; an Algonquin trapper who may be possessed by a demon that turns people into cannibals; and the colony’s own corrupt and conflicted orphanmaster. Both the search for the killer and Edward and Blandine’s newfound romance are endangered, however, when Blandine is accused of being a witch and Edward is sentenced to hang for espionage. Meanwhile, war looms as the English king plans to wrest control of the colony.

Jean Zimmerman brings New Amsterdam and its surrounding wilderness alive for modern-day readers with exacting period detail. Lively, fast paced, and full of colorful characters, The Orphanmaster is a dramatic page-turner that will appeal to fans of Hilary Mantel and Geraldine Brooks.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review
…the ideal historical mystery for readers who value the history as much as the mystery. Set in New Amsterdam in the mid-17th century, Zimmerman's nicely flowing narrative is animated by robust characters who thrive on the edges of civilization.
—Marilyn Stasio
Publishers Weekly
Zimmerman (The Women of the House: How a Colonial She-Merchant Built a Mansion, a Fortune, and a Dynasty) uses 1663 New Amsterdam as the intriguing backdrop for her promising fiction debut. The prologue sets the stage for the eventual integration of the two main plot lines: the worldwide hunt for the surviving judge commissioners who signed the death warrant for Charles I, marked for death by Charles II, and the disappearance of Piddy Gullee, an eight-year-old African-American girl later found murdered in the forest north of the New Amsterdam wall by a terrifyingly tall creature that looks to be half-man and half-beast. When the Dutch authorities show little interest in Piddy’s fate because of her race, Blandine van Couvering, a “she-merchant,” pursues the matter, and discovers that a number of young orphans have gone missing recently, possibly the victims of the witika, a flesh-eating demon from Algonquin legend. Fans of Eliot Pattison’s Bone Rattler will find a lot to like. 5-city author tour. Agent: Betsy Lerner, Dunow, Carlson, and Lerner. (June)
From the Publisher
Praise for The Orphanmaster:

"The Orphanmaster is a sweeping novel of great and precise imaginative intelligence; it's also the most entertaining and believable historical novel I've read in years. Jean Zimmerman is a debut novelist who already writes like an old master. Read any page of The Orphanmaster and you'll become an instant fan." – Darin Strauss, author of Half a Life and Chang and Eng

"Jean Zimmerman's seventeenth-century New Amsterdam teems with enough intrigue, lust, and madness to give our twenty-first-century Big Apple a run for its money. And money is what drives this book – liberating, corrupting, forming the only bulwark against a terrifying, chaotic New World. Zimmerman's wit and humanity shine light in a dark woods, creating an uncommonly rich debut."-– Sheri Holman, author of The Dress Lodger

"Here's American history turned inside out, animated by Jean Zimmerman's prodigious imagination.-Monsters lurk in the shadows, chaos presses in, legends come alive, and one adventure leads with irresistible force to the next.-The Orphanmaster is a breathtaking achievement." – Joanna Scott, author of Arrogance and Various Antidotes

"[A] compulsively readable, heartbreaking, and grisly mystery set in a wild colonial America." – ALA Booklist

"A feisty young Dutch woman, an English spy, and a local demon all cross paths in 1663 New Amsterdam, in this Ludlumesque historical thriller…a successful mix of historical fiction, spy thriller, and horror." – Library Journal

"As in the best historical fiction, [Zimmerman] has created a kind of truce between the authority of the past and the accessibility of the present, revealing to us what it once meant to be alive, and what that history means to us now ... on nearly every page there is some unobtrusively offered word or description, of food, of architecture, of dress, that brings the period and its people into clearer focus." – USA-Today

"Absorbing period fiction with the requisite colorful characters of the era." – The New York-Daily News

Library Journal
A feisty young Dutch woman, an English spy, and a local demon all cross paths in 1663 New Amsterdam, in this Ludlumesque historical thriller. Orphaned as a child, Blandine van Couvering now lives by her wits as a trader. She also looks out for the orphans around the small town and keeps a friendship with Visser, the appointed Orphanmaster. But first one orphan disappears, and then another is found molested and murdered. Evidence of a witika, a fiend of Native American folklore, is found near the remains. And what of the suave Englishman, Drummond, just come to town? Is he an honest grain trader, or something else? As the little bodies pile up, fears run wild. Fingers are pointed, and the gibbet is prepared. Making her fiction debut, Zimmerman (Love, Fiercely: A Gilded Age Romance; The Women of the House) trails red herrings all over her story, while helping the reader understand the jitters of living on the frontier. VERDICT This is a successful mix of historical fiction, spy thriller, and horror. A wide variety of readers will enjoy this. [See Prepub Alert, 12/5/11.]—W. Keith McCoy, Somerset Cty. Lib. Syst., Bridgewater, NJ
Kirkus Reviews
Historian Zimmerman (Love, Fiercely, 2012, etc.) debuts as a novelist with a gruesome murder mystery concerning a serial killer in the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam on the island of Manhattan. British spy Edward Drummond arrives in New Amsterdam in 1663 to prepare the way for Britain to wrest power from the Dutch and is immediately drawn into a love-hate attraction with Blandine van Couvering. A plucky beauty making a name for herself as a trader with the Dutch West India Company, 22-year-old Blandine is part of New Amsterdam society and practically engaged to Kees Bayard, Petrus Stuyvesant's nephew. Blandine also has a special, daughterly relationship with Aet Visser, the colony's official orphanmaster. Visser takes charge of children newly orphaned in the colony--including Blandine, whose merchant parents drowned at sea when she was 15; charming but wild Martyn Hendrickson from one of the richest families in the colony; and Martyn's half-Indian friend, Lightning, and his twin sister, Anna, now Visser's common-law wife--but more lucratively Visser handles orphans imported from Europe, supposedly for adoption but more often to serve as cheap labor. Morally ambiguous Visser cares equally about his charges' welfare and his own pocketbook. Suspecting a British family has switched the child (with an inheritance) that he placed in their care for another, but hampered by the language barrier, he enlists Drummond to investigate further. Meanwhile, children, all of them orphans, have begun disappearing from the colony. Their remains are found surrounded by talismans relating to Indian demons called Witika known to drive their victims to madness and even cannibalism. Soon the citizens are gripped with fear. Drummond and Blandine join forces, helped by Blandine's African bodyguard and half-crazy Indian trading partner, to search for the serial killer. When Blandine finally rejects Kees for Drummond, Kees wants revenge, and Drummond is arrested as a spy. Lightning plants evidence that draws suspicion of witchcraft onto Blandine. But by then, readers know the true identity of the murderer. A disturbing, often creepy melodrama, thick with historically accurate detail.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781101583654
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
06/19/2012
Sold by:
Penguin Group
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
432
Sales rank:
45,631
File size:
1 MB
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
Praise for The Orphanmaster:

The Orphanmaster is a sweeping novel of great and precise imaginative intelligence; it's also the most entertaining and believable historical novel I've read in years. Jean Zimmerman is a debut novelist who already writes like an old master. Read any page of The Orphanmaster and you'll become an instant fan.” – Darin Strauss, author of Half a Life and Chang and Eng


“Jean Zimmerman's seventeenth-century New Amsterdam teems with enough intrigue, lust, and madness to give our twenty-first-century Big Apple a run for its money. And money is what drives this book – liberating, corrupting, forming the only bulwark against a terrifying, chaotic New World. Zimmerman's wit and humanity shine light in a dark woods, creating an uncommonly rich debut.” – Sheri Holman, author of The Dress Lodger

“Here’s American history turned inside out, animated by Jean Zimmerman’s prodigious imagination. Monsters lurk in the shadows, chaos presses in, legends come alive, and one adventure leads with irresistible force to the next. The Orphanmaster is a breathtaking achievement.” – Joanna Scott, author of Arrogance and Various Antidotes

“[A] compulsively readable, heartbreaking, and grisly mystery set in a wild colonial America.” ALA Booklist

“A feisty young Dutch woman, an English spy, and a local demon all cross paths in 1663 New Amsterdam, in this Ludlumesque historical thriller…a successful mix of historical fiction, spy thriller, and horror.” Library Journal

"As in the best historical fiction, [Zimmerman] has created a kind of truce between the authority of the past and the accessibility of the present, revealing to us what it once meant to be alive, and what that history means to us now ... on nearly every page there is some unobtrusively offered word or description, of food, of architecture, of dress, that brings the period and its people into clearer focus." – USA Today

"Absorbing period fiction with the requisite colorful characters of the era." – The New York Daily News

Meet the Author

Jean Zimmerman was born in Tarrytown, New York. An honors graduate of Barnard College, she is the author of several works of nonfiction, including Love, Fiercely: A Gilded Age Romance and The Women of the House: How a Colonial She-Merchant Built a Mansion, a Fortune, and a Dynasty. She lives in Ossining, New York.

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The Orphanmaster 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
WarrenAWA More than 1 year ago
Superb historical fiction, a real page turner. Based in the Dutch colony of Manhattan just as the British are set to invade, the plot concerns a string of murders. Working at solving the mystery are a female fur trader and a British spy. The detail in the writing is truly staggering, you really feel as though you are there then. For anyone who likes to really fall into a book, this one is for you.
avilla35 More than 1 year ago
2.5 stars - If I could have given this book 2.5 stars I would have. I could have easily forgiven how laden with (unnecessary) detail the first part of this books was if the story had somehow redeemed itself. Sadly, however, it did not. You begin to feel worn down by this book after only a few pages into it. Neither the characters nor the dark nature of the story are ever fully realized. Yes, there are some gruesome scenes but there is no real action or character development. And, unfortunately, when there is, it's few and far between. I really feel misled by the many four and five star reviews here and I haven't the slightest clue as to why they would describe this book as a "real page turner". While it provides some entertaining historical insights, they aren't enough to carry the story, I apologize for reviewing this book rather harshly but it only goes to show how disappointing it was. The party responsible for the missing orphans has such an interesting back-story that it is beyond my understanding as to why the author would choose to overlook so much of it. If she had taken more time to explain to us how this person's experiences had given rise to their dark nature it would have made for a much more interesting read. Sadly, however, she chooses to inundate the reader with page upon page of seemingly inconsequential description. Again, I apologize for the negative nature of this review but I feel that if no one else here is willing to tell you the truth, I should. Save your money and look elsewhere.
flit-about More than 1 year ago
The author has pulled together an amazing amount of historical information and coupled it with just the right amount of political intrigue, superstitious myth (or is it really?), romance, and even a sort of feminism of the time period. It's a read to be savored for it's informative content, sub-stories, and implications. I loved the character development and the way the characters (there are many) are carefully introduced. The novel is beautifully paced and structured. You can tell I loved it, I gave it 5 stars.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It's been a while since I read this novel; however, some of the content was so disturbing that the details still come to mind. The story was interesting though & very well researched.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wonderful picture of New Amsterdam!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Orphanmaster by Jean Zimmerman, although long, is well worth the read. Featuring a smorgasbord of suspects and thrilling plot twists, you will find this book very hard to put down. It is clear to readers that the author devoted a considerable amount of time thoroughly researching the environment that the story is set in to ensure an accurate historical perspective. The focus of the book is on Brandine Van Couvering, a trader, who grew up as an orphan in the Colony of New Amsterdam under Dutch rule. This area is now New York. In her spare time, Brandine investigates a series of murders of orphans in the Colony. Originally the Colony blames their own Orphanmaster whose job it is to find permanent families for the orphans. As fear turns to hysteria, the Colonists begin to blame the Witika, a supernatural being, towering nine feet tall that craves human flesh. The plot twists suddenly several times throughout the novel as finger-pointing thrusts several different suspects into the spotlight. It is impossible to find any flaws in the historical components of this novel. Although it is a fictional story, it is set in an accurately portrayed time period with some real characters, such as Brandine. I’m not a fan of fiction, however the historical relevance and the compelling story of the orphans made this book enjoyable for me and I will keep an eye out for Jean Zimmerman’s next novel. Erik B
Elizabeth_Butler More than 1 year ago
Jean Zimmerman has spun an imaginative tale out of historical threads that is both suspenseful and action packed, yet still quite beautiful. As a result, The Orphan Master is an immensely entertaining novel. The setting is the island of Manhattan in 1663 when the island was named New Amsterdam and was occupied by the Dutch, their African slaves, and the native Indians who managed to survive the Europeans. The backdrop for our protagonist and her romantic interest shows the dynamic that soon created New York. As only a historian can, Zimmerman shows the hysteria, religious fervor, and political conundrum of the time and its effect on a lively cast of characters from the vulnerable to the truly evil. Zimmerman manages to convey raunchiness, love, hate, madness and even grisly murders, with a deft and gentle hand. This could have been the result of editor Betsy Lerner’s keen tutelage. Not a single foul word or cringe worthy scene. The women are strong and the hero is perfect, even when he is imperfect, so it sniffs, mildly, of a romance novel, one with Fabio on the cover, except The Orphan Master is smarter, more suspenseful – though we know early on who she will choose – and despite revealing the villain half-way through, we still hang in there to see who will survive.
ronao More than 1 year ago
Great story line, great charactrs, very well written! Really enjoyed it!
CheckRaise01 More than 1 year ago
great read
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BookLoverCT More than 1 year ago
This book offered a premise I had never considered. There were many causes of an abundance of parentless children. This book has some history that is probably not too well known.
Adaptoid More than 1 year ago
I love historically accurate novels, but it's a rare treat to read such a vigorously researched book with a thrilling, complicated plot. The characters were brought fully to life and the setting was absolutely tangible. I felt sick to have this novel end. Highly recommend.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This wonderful historic masterpiece would make a blockbuster film.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
wisebon More than 1 year ago
Interesting history of the founding of Manhnatten. Hard to believe anyone could be so cruel. Almost unbelievable. Main character was very compasionate and really tried to see the "good" in people although there was not too much good to see in those times. History buffrs might enhjoy but, unless you have a strong stomach, I would not5 recommend this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Could not get into this book---too muchgoingon dont waste ur time or money