Author: Jean Zimmerman
Seventeenth-century Lower Manhattan, New York, had many interesting stories and folk lore to tell and Jean Zimmerman has done extensive research on the topic. In her epic novel, The Orphanmaster, she tells of lore, love and mankind’s disgusting and gruesome cruelty toward other human beings.
This four hundred and eighteen page hard-cover book has a serene moonlit seaside town depicted on the front cover with part of a man’s hand holding a dagger to the left side. The plain dark back cover includes three reviews. The inside jacket has the story description and author’s biography. Two helpful maps are included along with a prologue, epilogue and author’s notes.
The book is long and tedious but there were no noticeable grammatical or typographical errors except the casual writing style with frequent one word sentences (usually an adverb or adjective). This style frequently interrupts the reader’s flow, trying often to decipher if the one word sentence is meant sarcastically or for reiteration.
The historically-based novel is of a young, self-made female orphan growing up in New Amsterdam, current day Manhattan. In addition to being in love with a young man she has grown up with and falling in love with a newcomer to the area, the woman tries to solve why so many young orphans are being kidnapped, abused or murdered ritualistically. The “orphanmaster” is the pivotal keeper of all orphans in the area including her and plays the puppet to an evil, scrupulous wealthy family of three brothers. There are side-kick defenders protecting her cohorts and her along with the brothers that bring intrigue and action to the story. The reader learns about witika, the supernatural-monster folklore of the period, the many blended cultures of English, Dutch and American Indian and the grossness of cannibalism. In addition to a premarital sex scene, there is maiming of children, eating them and occultism.
With at least twenty characters mentioned in the book, it is hard to keep track of each personality, especially when two new ones are mentioned in the last few pages. The first hundred pages tend to be confusing, with a lack of transitioning from one scene to the next. The last hundred pages becomes more of a turn-pager, so the book could obviously be shortened to redeem its interesting story line.
Zimmerman does justice explaining about the nuances, ways and details of the time period with the bent toward the lore of American Indians and their beliefs, but with so many characters, one gets easily lost and confused. By two thirds of the book, this reader had already figured out the killer so it produced an anti-climactic ending.
Posted May 2012: