Jean Zimmerman is the published author of many non fiction books, but The Orphan Master is her fiction debut.
Zimmerman's previous works have focused on the 'changing role of women in America.' In The Orphan Master she takes us back to 1663 and the Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam - what we now know as Manhattan. Her protagonist is Blandine van Couvering, a young, beautiful woman who is also a successful trader. Blandine has been an orphan since the age of fifteen and the colony's local orphan master has helped her and hundreds of other parentless children find their way over the years. But when orphans start disappearing and rumours abound, Blandine is one of the few to take notice. Could it be the orphan master himself? What about the whispers of the Witika - a creature known to crave human flesh? Could it be the Native peoples? What about the Englishman newly landed in New Amsterdam? Or the wealthy family in town who control just about everything - except one of their own?
Zimmerman has successfully combined history and mystery with some romance thrown in to create a engrossing read. The descriptions of life in that time and place, the politics and the amount of historical detail woven into the tale made for made for fascinating reading. The characters were all strongly drawn, with Blandine being the standout for me. She was strong, fearless and made her own way in a time period where women were usually slated as supporting characters. Although I enjoyed the character of Drummond, the Englishman, he didn't grab me as much as I expected. Instead I was drawn to secondary characters, such as Blandine's friends and protectors Kitane, Antony and Raeger.
Although the identity of the perpetrator is known half way through the book, (and wasn't too hard to suss out) I never lost interest. The only part that felt awkward to me was the romantic getaway between Blandine and another character. It felt clumsily inserted and out of place. Fair warning to delicate readers - the crimes are quite gruesome. But all in all, Zimmerman is a good storyteller and this first foray into fiction is quite commendable. Film rights for The Orphan Master have been sold already. Read an excerpt of The Orphan Master.