The Orphanmaster by Jean Zimmerman
In 17th century New Amsterdam (present day New York City), orphans are disappearing. Few citizens are concerned about them; they are, after all, little more than indentured servants or homeless miscreants. Two, though, are concerned — a female Dutch merchant named Blandine and the orphanmaster.
As was common in the 17th century new world, children orphaned in the “old country” — in this case Holland — were routinely shipped to America and placed, when possible, by the official orphanmaster. They lived with families who would feed and shelter them in return for their labor. It was also not uncommon for women to work alongside men in new Dutch colonies.
So it is that Blandine and orphanmaster Aet Vitter begin to wonder about the missing children. When Blandine meets and falls in love with an English spy named Drummond, they begin their search in earnest. When the finger bones of a child are found by a young boy, a full fledge panic breaks out. The disappearing children must be the work of the witika – a flesh eating demon believed to be real by the native populations.
Can it be that Blandine is actually a witch in league with the witika? And what of her lover, Drummond? He’s known to be a spy for the British — does he have a role in this?
Romance, mystery, terror, and suspense abound in this thrilling first novel by an author whose research into this time and place of American history has resulted in several non-fiction books before this. For book clubs that love history and suspense, this book is perfect.
Viking/Penguin; ISBN 978-0-67002-364-6; $27.95.