Title: Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield
Publisher: Atria/Emily Bestler Books
Length: 336 pages
Book Rating: C
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley
ONE MOMENT IN TIME CAN HAUNT YOU FOREVER.
Caught up in a moment of boyhood competition, William Bellman recklessly aims his slingshot at a rook resting on a branch, killing the bird instantly. It is a small but cruel act, and is soon forgotten. By the time he is grown, with a wife and children of his own, William seems to have put the whole incident behind him. It was as if he never killed the thing at all. But rooks don’t forget . . .
Years later, when a stranger mysteriously enters William’s life, his fortunes begin to turn—and the terrible and unforeseen consequences of his past indiscretion take root. In a desperate bid to save the only precious thing he has left, he enters into a rather strange bargain, with an even stranger partner. Together, they found a decidedly macabre business.
And Bellman & Black is born.
Diane Setterfield’s Bellman & Black is an eerie ghost story set in England during the Victorian era. William Bellman’s business successes are haunted by personal tragedy and in an effort to save his daughter from an untimely death, he enters into a bargain with a rather mysterious figure known only as Black.
Bellman & Black begins with the fateful day that ten year old William Bellman takes aim with his slingshot and kills a rook. We then follow William into adulthood where he becomes a successful businessman running the family mill, marries and fathers several children. He suffers many tragic losses and instead of mourning those deaths, William instead buries his grief in work. When faced with the prospect of losing his entire family during an epidemic, William makes a deal with a figure that has haunted him at various times in his life.
The first half of Bellman & Black is fast paced and quite interesting. William is a fascinating and intelligent character with extraordinary business acumen. He finds happiness in his personal life but he always remains very work oriented. The atmosphere of the story during this part of the story is light and rather hopeful despite William’s ominous and unexplained sightings of a rather ghostly figure that appears after he experiences a loss.
It is at the mid-point of the novel that it takes a dark turn and the pacing becomes slow. The story becomes mired down in superfluous details and seems to lose focus after William strikes a vague deal with the ethereal Mr. Black and embarks on another business venture. The rest of the novel centers around the new business and Mr. Black seems to disappear.
Although it is not a typical ghost story, there is a supernatural quality to Bellman & Black. Diane Setterfield’s research is meticulous and her attention to detail provides added depth and interest to the storyline. The plot is quite unique and there are some very interesting twists and turn. The ending is well done and answers a few of the questions that haunt William (and the reader) for much of the novel.