Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Orphanmaster by Jean Zimmerman

Review copy from NetGalley

I was born and raised on Long, Island, New York, so I love books about New York. One of my favorite books is Jack Finney's Time and Again, which is set in both "present day" (okay, not our present day, but the around the 1960s) and in old New York City, around 1875. I love that old NY setting, when there were still farms and Brooklyn was the country!

This novel, The Orphanmaster, is set in 1633, and New York is hardly even a shadow of the town it will once become. Petrus Stuyvesant is the Director General of the New Amsterdam colony. Little does he know he is the last Dutch director general. I like novels like this, that take place upon already well known and established histories. Blandina Van Couvering is an unusual young woman: she is a trader. But the Dutch are very tolerant of their women's endeavors. Although an orphan, her father was a gunsmith and she was raised in a household where she was encouraged to learn. Sadly, her family died on a return visit to the Netherlands. Being a little bit older and more stubborn than most of the orphans landing on the shores of the New World, she is able to eek out a life for herself, without becoming someone's servant. The Orphanmaster of the colony, Aet Visser, is in charge of these unfortunate children, but his relationship with Blandina, and with many of the children, is one of fatherly affection.

Children, all orphans, have gone missing in the colony, and some have been murdered in terrible ways. Blandina knows of these missing children, and being an orphan herself, and feeling great compassion for her fellow urchins, she is concerned. She takes it upon herself to discover what has happened to these children. People are blaming a witika, an Indian demon spirit. Blandina knows it must be a human being.

Edward Drummond is a spy/ prospector, working for King Charles II, to find the executioners of his father, King Charles I. They are far flung across the world, and this current expedition is taking place around the new colonies, around New Amsterdam. Visser asks Drummond for help, as he believes one of the orphans he placed with a family has been somehow replaced with a different child. So Drummond is well aware of strange goings on in the colony when he meets Blandina.

This is a mystery, as well as a love story.  Remember Maddie and David from Moonlighting (Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis), and their sexual tension? I could not help but think of them while reading this book...especially when Blandina tells Edwards to call her Van Couvering, and she'll call him Drummond while they're investigating these murders, to keep it professional.  Kind of amusing, and of course, you know where these characters are going to end up right from the start.  So it really had that detective story feel, in a colonial setting, of course. This is a great book for fans of Edward Rutherford (I love his books London and New York) and those who love mysteries that are not to complex, since Zimmerman gives the reader a sort of omniscient presence throughout the novel, letting us see what the participants of the story cannot. It was pretty good.

3.5 stars

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