The Orphanmaster

The Orphanmaster

3.7 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

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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.

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Editorial Reviews

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)
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.
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

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780670023646
Publisher:
Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
Publication date:
06/19/2012
Pages:
432
Product dimensions:
6.32(w) x 9.14(h) x 1.38(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

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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