Bellman & Black is a heart-thumpingly perfect ghost story, beautifully and irresistibly written, its ratcheting tension exquisitely calibrated line by line. Its hero is William Bellman, who, as a boy of 11, killed a shiny black rook with a catapult, and who grew up to be someone, his neighbours think, who “could go to the good or the bad.” And indeed, although William Bellman’s life at first seems blessed—he has a happy marriage to a beautiful woman, becomes father to a brood of bright, strong children, and thrives in business—one by one, people around him die. And at each funeral, he is startled to see a strange man in black, smiling at him. At first, the dead are distant relatives, but eventually his own children die, and then his wife, leaving behind only one child, his favourite, Dora. Unhinged by grief, William gets drunk and stumbles to his wife’s fresh grave—and who should be there waiting, but the smiling stranger in black. The stranger has a proposition for William—a mysterious business called “Bellman & Black” . . .
Bellman & Black: A Ghost Story by Diane Setterfield
ISBN: 9781476711959 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781476712000 (ebook)
ASIN: B00DO1Q6IC (Kindle edition)
Publication date: November 5, 2013
Publisher: Atria/Emily Bestler Books
William Bellman commits a horrible deed as a child and, unbeknownst to him, that one small deed will overshadow the rest of his life. William grows into a rather mature and responsible young man, settling down and helping to take care of his mother, as well as actively participating in his father’s family business. He quickly becomes his uncle’s assistant and is soon expanding the business with suggestion after suggestion. He grieves his mother’s death and gradually moves on, marrying and raising a family. But then his life seems to fall apart with death after death and grief beyond all bounds. It is William’s grief that brings his introduction to the mysterious man in black.
It isn’t really possible to describe Bellman & Black without giving away the storyline or the ending (if I did that you wouldn’t have to read the book . . . read this book!). Suffice it to say there are a number of unexpected twists and turns that kept me on edge and thoroughly engaged until the end. Bellman & Black is just as lyrical and linguistically entrancing as Ms. Setterfield’s debut work The Thirteenth Letter. It differs in that this is a true Gothic ghost story but with panache. The underlying premise of the story is that small actions may bring about major repercussions in our lives and we never know when those repercussions will arrive. I generally try not to read other reviews before I write my own for fear of being influenced by what others have written, but this was not the case with Bellman & Black. Others were disappointed and felt that this book was too different from Ms. Setterfield’s first. I thoroughly enjoyed this story as well as the differences. I found the characters very realistic, engaging and all too human with their flaws (some major and others minor). Ms. Setterfield is quite adept at drawing her readers into the scenes and truly paints a picture with her words. If you enjoy reading well-written stories and Gothic ghost tales, then Bellman & Black is one book you definitely want to read.
Watch the book trailer:
Listen to an audio excerpt here.
Disclaimer: I received a digital copy of this book free for review purposes from the publisher via NetGalley. I was not paid, required or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”