Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Orphanmaster” as Want to Read:
The Orphanmaster
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Orphanmaster

3.30  ·  Rating details ·  2,435 ratings  ·  498 reviews
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 Cou
Hardcover, 432 pages
Published June 19th 2012 by Viking
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Orphanmaster, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Tammy I wouldn't completely ignore but still read what the book is about and see if it might interest you. I find the more diverse the opinion the better th…moreI wouldn't completely ignore but still read what the book is about and see if it might interest you. I find the more diverse the opinion the better the book. Everyone has their own taste of good and bad.(less)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.30  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,435 ratings  ·  498 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of The Orphanmaster
Dec 25, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016-challenge

3.5 stars

Though there's a mystery at the heart of this story, the book's strongest suit is its depiction of the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam in the 1660s. New Amsterdam's Director-General, Petrus Stuyvesant, rules under the auspices of the Dutch West India Company, whose main goal is to make money.

Thus, numerous residents of New Amsterdam are traders - dealing in grains, furs, weapons, blankets, household items, etc. Life in the territory can be harsh though - with deadly diseases, serious in
May 23, 2012 rated it did not like it
First, the writing is awkward and clunky. It's third person omniscient, but she's inconsistent in her omniscience, like, sometimes we are with the crazy killer and we know just what he's thinking (and yes, it's exactly who you think it is), and sometimes it's a mystery. She doesn't seem to have a handle on how to deal with information, like, at all, so we either get confusing withholding, or a deathly dull information dump.

Second, Writing historical fiction doesn't mean you have to give us an "o
Jun 23, 2012 rated it it was ok
In my imaginary Fenimore Cooper School of Literary Offenses, there's a popular class on how to write irritating historical novels. Writers are encouraged to apply modern ideas to past cultures. Jean Zimmerman surely took this course. Her heroine Blandina, who lives in New Amsterdam just before it falls to the British, is an independent trader. So far so good. But then we find she's best buddies with the African Americans shunned by the rest of the colony, not to mention with a native American. H ...more
Aug 27, 2012 rated it liked it
This book had a lot of amazing qualities: historical facts, interesting premise, some well developed and unique characters, but it lacked proper pacing to keep you hooked. Thrillers need to read like a runaway train, and this read more like a commuters local.
Every now and then I read a book that just takes my breath away. It feels like the author wrote the book just for me, and I just can't put it down. This one, which I won through the goodreads' first reads (yeah!) giveaways was just that. It was just so brilliant that I'm really struggling how to put it into words.

It is set in a period of history about which very little is written in historical fiction - early New York history, when it was still a tenuous colony of intrepid Dutch men and women, g
Jan 21, 2013 rated it it was ok
Jean Zimmerman writes in the afterward to her historical novel, The Orphanmaster, that her husband asked her to, “Write me a murder.” She should have ignored him and concentrated on writing an historical adventure novel that interweaves the lives of its characters with the historical and political events of the time, instead of an ill-conceived and poorly executed period murder mystery.

The best parts of the novel involve Blandine Van Couvering’s rise as a female trader in the Dutch colony of New
Paul Pessolano
Aug 19, 2012 rated it it was ok
“The Orphan Master” by Jean Zimmerman, published by Viking.

Category – Fiction/Historical Fiction

In 1663 Lower Manhattan was called New Amsterdam and was a Dutch Colony. The Dutch had a civil position known as “The Orphan Master” whose job was to watch over children who had lost both their parents.

Aet Visser was “The Orphan Master” for New Amsterdam. He placed children in homes or places where they could work.

Edward Drummond, an Englishman, comes to New Amsterdam to scout the area for a possible
Mar 23, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: review-books
This is a 4.5 for me, and the only thing that kept me from giving it a five is the crutch of formula mystery/crime writing that it leans on. The setting is outstanding, though. 17th century New Amsterdam is not a time/place I have read about before and Zimmerman captured the sounds, smells and sights of it as well as the inhabitants. A mixture of Dutch, English, German, Indian and African form the list of characters, and most are fully fleshed by the writing. There are significant scary moments( ...more
Lisa Senauke
Jun 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the best historical/mystery/suspense books I've ever read. Author Jean Zimmerman has written an incredibly compelling novel about life, love and murder in New Amsterdam (lower Manhattan) in 1660. Ms. Zimmerman's attention to detail and knowledge of life and the history of the early days of Manhattan bring realism and depth to this tale of grizzly murder, . The main character is a strong and spirited heroine, Blandine van Couvering - Blandine, an orphan herself, is artfully drawn i ...more
Aug 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing

An historical novel, yes, but oh so much more! Author Jean Zimmerman has meticulously researched the data on the colony established by the Dutch West India Company in the 1600s. The colony, New Amsterdam, will eventually become Manhattan, but in 1660 it is a bustling center of commerce under the iron fist (and wooden leg) of Petrus Stuyvesant. One of the bureaucratic jobs in the community is the Orphan Master. His job is to oversee and protect and provide for the orphans there. Orphans may have
Alyssa Nelson
The best thing about The Orphanmaster is its historical detail. Zimmerman does an excellent job of setting the scene and integrating issues and concerns the colonists had during that time. The legend of the witika was delightfully horrific, and I enjoyed reading about it. This story has lots of drama to keep the reader entertained. Though the first half is a bit slow, the second half really picks up and it is simply a race to the end. I will say that this is not for everyone, as it is rather gra ...more
Susan Johnson
The novel is set in 1663 when the Dutch ruled Manhattan. It's a time period I know virtually nothing about so I was excited about the book. The Dutch had some very forward thinking ideas about women. A woman, after marriage, was allowed to work and retain property in her own name. The protagonist in the story is Blandine van Couvis, a merchant trader.

Blandine has some odd associates including a giant black man who survived a hanging and an Indian who sometimes practices a little cannibalism wh
Edwin Battistella
Sep 06, 2014 rated it liked it
The Orphanmaster took a while for me to get into—too long, I thought—but when I finally did I was hooked. It’s a murder thriller and a historical novel of the 1660s, set in fertile locale: the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, where a native creature called a witika is thought to be stealing and devouring orphans. There’s a determined she-trader hero, a dissolute but seemingly good-hearted bureaucrat in charge of orphans, an English spy charged with tracking down the regicides who sentenced Charles ...more
Nov 12, 2012 rated it it was ok
A story about a fictional string of orphan-murders in Manhattan's 17th Century Dutch New Amsterdam colony is certainly a great idea for a book, but what type? Is it a murder mystery? a historical romance? or is it literary fiction? Often, it feels like the writer herself hasn't quite decided. However, the final section of the novel delivers the answer with dead-on precision--it is a gruesome, nail-biting, shocker of a crime thriller. If only the preceding 375 pages matched the final 40. Still, t ...more
Apr 29, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I received this book from the publisher as part of Goodreads giveaway program, Firstreads.

It was difficult to come up with a rating for this first novel by historian Jean Zimmerman. There are aspects of it that are really great, and yet it also has serious problems. The novel presents itself throughout as a mixture of genres - historical, mystery, horror, romance - yet is packaged as a literary work. This hodgepodge creates problems, yet somehow the work as a whole came out better for me than an
Christina (A Reader of Fictions)
Review originally posted here.

The Orphanmaster is Jean Zimmerman's debut novel. It is not, however, her first foray into publication by any stretch of the imagination. Zimmerman is, first and foremost, a historian. Earlier this year, I read her recently published Love, Fiercely, and quite enjoyed it. Despite that, The Orphanmaster wasn't really on my radar, and I was going to let it pass me by. Then, one of the lovely folks at Penguin offered me a copy for review, and I couldn't say no. Guys, I
May 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
A creature stalks the shadows of New Amsterdam. Known as the witika, it is a deranged beast that consumes the flesh of its fellow man. In Jean Zimmerman's The Orphanmaster, the witika has been blamed for a recent string of orphan kidnappings and killings. Dutch merchant Blandine von Couvering, who is an orphan herself, has her doubts, and sets out to solve the mystery with the help of British spy Edward Drummond, her servant/companion Antony, and Kitane, a Lenape trapper.

Though it had its faults
Apr 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Elli by: Diane, Donna
This is set on Manhattan Island, part of New Amsterdam, a trading Dutch settlement very early in the history of our country as a new country. Things are just beginning to simmer as far as who owns, who has rights in trading, all those qualities that are disputable to those looking for business possibilities and how to best exploit them. And the new world is ripe with possibilities. Peter Steyvestant is the head of the colony and is known for his unwavering strictness and strong ideas. The orpha ...more
May 16, 2012 rated it liked it
It is 1663 in New Amsterdam.

If you an orphan, then most likely you have met the orphanmaster. He is the one that all the children know.

Blandine van Couvering grew up an orphan herself. She has done pretty well for herself these days. Having been an orphan, Blandine has a soft spot for the other orphan children. This is why when some of the orphan children go missing, Blandine takes it upon herself to lead a group and go hunting for the missing children. Blandine is joined by Edward Drummond, a
Natalie (Natflix&Books)
May 10, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: first-reads
I was so excited to win an advance copy of this book through Goodreads. The cover looked amazing (I know, I know) and the story sounded so interesting, even if it wasn't my usual cup of tea. So the story takes place in what was once New Amsterdam and which is now Manhattan. The Dutch have control of the area and live more freely than their English conterparts. Women are allowed to trade and own property, former slaves are free to live as they please, and Native Indians mix (fairly) freely with t ...more
Apr 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
In 1663, what we know today as lower Manhattan, was a querulous little Dutch colony known as New Amsterdam. Although established by the Dutch, it became an international trading center facing a time of transition. Originally, home to various indigenous peoples, Europeans and nationalities of all ethnic origins began to move through this gateway to North America, bringing about change as well as conflict. In this challenging world of the frontier, death is not only common but a constant and predi ...more
M Bonet
May 22, 2012 rated it did not like it
Recommended to M by: MC Bonet
A proper murder mystery requires two very important elements: Sleuthing by its main protagonist/s (whether it be professional or amateur), and a tight, carefully structured "who done it" that serves up clues, red herrings, and plot twists to keep us guessing as to the murderer's identity and motives. 'The Orphanmaster' is sorely lacking in both of these departments. Blandine and Edward Drummond, the Dutch she-merchant and English spy who serve as heroine and hero as well as amateur sleuths, brie ...more
Diane S ☔
Mar 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
The amount of history this book covers is amazing! Dutch New Amsterdam, the southern tip of what would become Manhattan, in the 1660's, traders, trappers, River Indians and Mohawks are all represented. Charles II has been recalled to the throne and is set on having all those who signed his father's execution writ, murdered. Drummond is the King's man and sent to the new world to find those few men who have managed to escape England. Blandine, the main protagonist, is a young woman moving up in t ...more
Aug 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
This was an excellent book. It takes place in 1663 in the Duthc settlement of New Amsterdam. Orphaned children are disappearing and murdered by an unknown sadist. There is panic in the town because of the rumors of the witika, an Indian demon known to cannabalize his victims. Blandine van Couvering is a young woman who has begun a trading business. She begins to look into the disappearances but is sidetracked by her travels for trading. She meets Edward Drummond who is an Englishman traveling as ...more
Jul 28, 2012 rated it liked it
• The author who has written a non-fiction book on this time period, so she knows her stuff, but her writing did not appeal to me and at times the language was too much of the time so that made the story drag
• I really enjoyed the character of Blandine van Couvering and she is one of the reasons I kept reading – she was a strong independent woman that remained true to her ambitions while earning respect.
• There was really a position called “orphanmaster” who was “in charge” of the orphans (and a
May 25, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
Would recommend: Ehh

This is a super strange book. I think it tried to be like Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague or maybe The Crucible, but it came out so bizarre. It's like, early American settlement meets weird Dutch names meets independent heroine meets totally weird demonic possession and cannibalism. What? Like I said, SO WEIRD. Granted, I wanted to know how it ended, but when I read the last line, I think there was a giant cartoon question mark over my head, not because I didn't unders
May 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
Though a lot of the subject matter was disturbing (there were definitely times I skimmed paragraphs detailing it), I thought this book was very interesting, and unlike anything I'd ever read before. It was a mystery set back in the 1600s, so you have the historical context behind the main plot of a serial killer taking orphaned children in the American colonies. I loved how the author switched the points of view of the narrator, so that you don't actually know who the killer is (or why you're le ...more
Jul 01, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
It's 1663 and Manhattan's orphans have begun to disappear. Their small bodies, if found, are mutilated in ways reminiscent of the "witika", the demon-beast of Indian lore. Initially, this book grabbed my interest but by the time I was half way through I was forcing myself to finish it. Once the murder is revealed (about 2/3 of the way in), the book strays through subplots before petering out to its final conclusion. The storyline meanders and at times was difficult to follow. That said, I did en ...more
Holly P
Jan 11, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: american-hf

The Orphanmaster attracted me because it promised a feisty female heroine, the setting of New Amsterdam (back when New York wasn't even New York yet) and an intriguing mystery surrounding the disappearance of orphans from the colony. While I got the first two, unfortunately I didn't get the third. Blandine van Couvering is a beautiful young woman who, unwilling to settle down into the life of a good obedient house wife, ventures into the trade business and finds her true calling. As this is
Jun 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Great tale of intrigue but the witica details did make me squirm.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Happy Singles Day
  • Spy
  • Love of Finished Years
  • Church of Marvels
  • Girl
  • The True Deceiver
  • A Deadly Edition (Blue Ridge Library Mysteries #5)
  • The Best of Me
  • The Russia House
  • The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street
  • What You Do Is Who You Are: How to Create Your Business Culture
  • Cinnamon Roll Murder (Hannah Swensen, #15)
  • Troy
  • The Fall of Koli (Rampart Trilogy #3)
  • Unnatural Acts (Stone Barrington, #23)
  • The Things We Cherished
  • City of Glory: A Novel of War and Desire in Old Manhattan (Old New York, #2)
See similar books…
Throughout her writing career Jean Zimmerman has published both nonfiction and fictional works that center around the changing role of women in America.

In Tailspin (Doubleday, 1995) she wrote about intrepid Navy fighter pilot Kara Hultgreen. Ballsy soccer players were the subject of Raising Our Athletic Daughters (Doubleday, 1998, with Gil Reavill). She covered heroic female homemakers in Made Fro

Related Articles

If you're a fan of the mystery and thriller genre and young adult books, recent months have brought a bevy of great reads to your shelves! We...
135 likes · 21 comments
“On the same day, two murders.” 4 likes
“Drummond appreciated his guest's initial silence, his respect for the ancient, sacred act of imbibing. Drink first, talk later.” 3 likes
More quotes…