THE ORPHANMASTER by Jean Zimmerman


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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.

Pub Date: June 19th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-670-02364-6
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2012


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