After reading and enjoying Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale a number of years ago I was so excited to see she was coming out with a new novel, Bellman & Black. While I can’t say that I enjoyed Bellman & Black as much as her first novel, Ms. Setterfield does present another intriguing story, one that will lead the reader into an eerie world where a seemingly small occurrence will haunt a man for his entire life.
When a young William Bellman kills a rook with his slingshot he is briefly disturbed by what he has done but soon forgets about it and moves on with his life. The nephew of the owner of Bellman’s Mill, Will begins working for his uncle and soon becomes indispensable to the company. Will seems to be blessed with a remarkable blend of brains, luck and an incredible work ethic and as he continues on at the mill he gets married, has children and eventually becomes the mill’s owner. William Bellman is happy. Yet as his star rises those around him continue to fall and a sinister man in black seems to always be close by but out of reach. No amount of planning, studying or calculating can keep Will’s loved ones from dying, that is until this Mr. Black offers him a deal and he takes it.
Only having a vague sense of the deal he made with this dark stranger, Bellman opens a funerary emporium called Bellman and Black and works tirelessly to build a thriving business off of death, always saving for when Mr. Black comes for his payment. But when that occurs, what Mr. Black wants is not what Bellman could ever have envisioned.
Bellman & Black has a decidedly macabre feeling underlying the entire story, one that does not let up. While I will admit that this unsettling feeling makes for a tantalizing reading experience I wouldn’t categorize it as a ghost story as the cover would have you believe. It is more about a man grasping for life and, in doing so, actually missing out on living the life he has worked so hard to obtain. The strange character of Mr. Black actually only appears in snippets throughout the story while he served as more of a dark cloud over Bellman that he can’t quite get away from. The harder Bellman works the more he pulls away from the world around him and starts going mad with uncertainty of when Mr. Black will be back to collect whatever it is he wants. This slow unraveling was my favorite part of Bellman & Black.
What I enjoyed less, however, was the endless details given to the various business aspects of the Bellman empire. I found myself starting to glaze over slightly with the constant discussion of calculations, deals and workload but would perk up again when a death brought Mr. Black back in the picture. The way Mr. Black fits in with the killing of the rook was kind of odd to me as well but one I accepted as part of the general strangeness of the story.
Overall I enjoyed Bellman & Black for the otherworldly, old fashioned macabre story it is. It is a quick, spooky read and one I would recommend to anyone who enjoys a little unsettling chill in their reading.
Colleen lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, son, their dog Oliver and their fish Finn. When not working or taking care of her family she has her nose stuck in a book (and, let’s face it, often when she is working or taking care of her family as well). Nothing excites her more than discovering a new author to obsess over or a hidden jewel of a book to worship.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Atria/Emily Bestler Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.