This novel ignited my interest in Dutch and colonial New York history–Jean Zimmerman does a terrific job of evoking life in 17th century New Amsterdam. The sights, the sounds, the smells, all are brought to life in her engrossing historical mystery. Blandine van Couvering, a 22-year old she-merchant in the Dutch trading community, becomes interested in the case of several orphans who have disappeared over the past several months; as an orphan herself, she becomes involved in the investigation to find out what happened to the missing children. But when her efforts arouse the ire of the kidnapper, both Blandine and her lover, English spy Edward Drummond, are swept into a dangerous game of cat and mouse. Peter Stuyvesant, governor of New Amsterdam, makes several appearances in the novel; reading about his irrational autocratic behavior made me quite happy that the English took control of the colony in 1664. Mystery and history fans will love this one!
After reading The Orphanmaster, I searched out Jean Zimmerman’s previous book on early New York, The Women of the House: How a Colonial She-Merchant Built a Mansion, a Fortune, and a Dynasty. Margaret Hardenbroeck Philipse arrived in New Amsterdam in 1659 and became one of the wealthiest and most successful she-merchants of the town. Zimmerman’s book traces her rise, the establishment of her dynasty, and the gradual loss of status of the women of the family after the new English government took away the property and business rights Dutch women had taken for granted. Fascinating history with a feminist slant!
And–to top it off–Jean Zimmerman has another new book out this year, a true life love story set in New York’s Gilded Age. Readers of Edith Wharton will enjoy the story of Edith Minturn and Isaac Newton Phelps Stokes, quintessential New Yorkers who grew up in the privileged world inhabited by Astors, Vanderbilts and Roosevelts. Edith was the model for Daniel Chester French’s Statue of the Republic displayed at the entrance of the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893, and Edith and Isaac were painted by John Singer Sargent. Love, Fiercely: A Gilded Age Romance is a story of the truth behind the Edith Wharton novels.