The Orphanmaster: A Novel of Early Manhattan

( 13 )

Overview

A love story wrapped around a murder mystery, set in seventeenth-century Manhattan
 
In 1663 in the hardscrabble colony of New Amsterdam—today’s lower Manhattan—orphan children are going missing and residents suspect a serial killer. The list of possible culprits is long and strange. Among those looking into the mystery are a shrewd young Dutch woman, Blandine van Couvering, and a dashing Englishman, ...

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Overview

A love story wrapped around a murder mystery, set in seventeenth-century Manhattan
 
In 1663 in the hardscrabble colony of New Amsterdam—today’s lower Manhattan—orphan children are going missing and residents suspect a serial killer. The list of possible culprits is long and strange. Among those looking into the mystery are a shrewd young Dutch woman, Blandine van Couvering, and a dashing Englishman, Edward Drummond, whose newfound romance is threatened by horrible accusations.
            In this spellbinding work of historical fiction, Jean Zimmerman relates the harsh realities of life in early Manhattan, re-creating the sights, smells, and textures of the rough settlement surrounded by wilderness and subject to political turmoil. Compulsively readable and filled with New York history, The Orphanmaster will delight fans of Caleb Carr, Hilary Mantel, and Geraldine Brooks.

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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)
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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143123538
  • Publisher: Viking Penguin
  • Publication date: 4/30/2013
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 176,365
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Jean Zimmerman

Jean Zimmerman is the author 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. This is her first novel.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 30, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    In the year 1663, on what is known today as Manhattan, someone i

    In the year 1663, on what is known today as Manhattan, someone is abducting and killing orphans. Blandine is a young orphan woman who has worked hard to carve out a living for herself as a trader. Richard Drummond, an English cavalier meets and becomes intrigued with Blandine. Together, they set out to solve the murder mystery.




    The Orphanmaster is a fascinating novel about the Dutch colony in early America. Well researched, the author has truly captured the essence of the times with all its hardships, morals, and daily living. I thoroughly enjoyed the heroine who is strong and stalwart and definitely independent. The giant man who befriends her and follows her around to protect her, was also a fine touch. And of course, I thoroughly enjoyed the hero, Richard Drummond. Although the novel moves slowly at times, and the novel could have had a few more scenes edited, the mystery about the sadistic killer kept me reading on to the end. A very good story that definitely sweeps readers back into 17th century America. 

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  • Posted May 10, 2013

    Got to page 200 and gave up because I really didn't care about t

    Got to page 200 and gave up because I really didn't care about the characters. The author paints a picture of an ugly place with small minded ugly people.

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