Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Orphanmaster by Jean Zimmerman

The Orphanmaster
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.
A lush, historical novel, this book will tantalize you with an era of American history you with which you might not be too well acquainted.

New Amsterdam is a burgeoning community when this novel starts. The mixture of English traditions and Dutch ones make for an interesting place to read about. The details in the narrative are fabulous, and although they do slow down the pace a bit, they are well worth the time, since they paint a vivid portrait of what life was like in that point in time in that particular place. This all means that the first quarter of the novel is a bit on the slow side, presenting the readers with all the characters and their backgrounds. With all the fascinating details, I didn’t find it boring but I do caution you to expect the slower pace. The second half of the book moves much more quickly, with a nice sense of tension that is not always easy to achieve in historical “thrillers”.

The characters, especially Blandine, are written in a colorful way that makes them come alive in the reader’s head. Many are based on real people, carefully researched, while others come straight from the author’s imagination.

I do recommend this book for all lovers of historical fiction and mysteries. One you get through the first quarter, you’ll be taken in by the inspired story-telling.  


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