Sunday, June 10, 2012
Historical Mystery: The Orphanmaster by Jean Zimmerman
Date: June 19, 2012
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review.)
Reading time: two days
From GoodReads: 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.
My review: I dragged my heels about getting around to reading this book. I requested a review copy from the publisher, hooked by the historical setting of New Amsterdam, before remembering that, oh yeah, I don't like historical thrillers. Since I had requested a copy, of course I should still read it around its release date, and wouldn't you know, I really enjoyed it!
Despite the touting of this novel as a thriller, the pacing of the plot was relatively slow. There were some very exciting, heart-pounding portions, but overall the story went on at a more leisurely pace, engulfing the reader in the setting and the main characters' lives. Zimmerman fails to fall into the hole of a lot of other historical thriller writers by allowing the mystery and any romance to overshadow the history. She seamlessly interweaves political, cultural, and social details of life in 1660s New Amsterdam and surrounding areas with mystery and romance, not allowing any one element of the story to overbalance the others. The inspiration for the murders - a Native American legend similar to that of the wendigo, but combined with European madness and decadent decay - is an added bonus. The only things that bothered me about the novel were occasional details in characterization and plot that seemed a little disjointed, but these were generally insignificant, few and far between. I breezed through the book; even though the culprit becomes clear relatively soon, the conclusion is not, and so readers eagerly whisk through the story in order to see its development and final events.