Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield


Caught up in a moment of boyhood competition, William Bellman recklessly aims his slingshot at a rook 17571907resting 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. –

In the beginning, I was completely engrossed by this book,  but after reading it, I felt like something was missing, almost like I’d been cheated.  William Bellman was easy to like, initially.  I enjoyed seeing him build his career and family and he was immensely happy in doing so.  He was a smart businessman and a wonderful husband and father – at first.  As stated in the book description, William suffers many losses and his priorities change.  I found it interesting that when he first began work in the mill, William surrounded himself with vibrant colors, full of life – but when his circumstances changed, he seemed to shun bright colors, finding them vulgar, preferring grays and blacks.  Interesting parallel with his life events.

Bellman & Black is described as a ghost story, which was what initially made me want to read it, but it never really had the feel of a ghost story.  I’m assuming the “ghost” had something to do with Black, but his character and purpose were never really made clear.  As the story progressed, I kept waiting for something to happen – some big plot surprise or heart of the story – but by the middle of the book, I realized that was never going to develop.

The writing was impressive and flowed very well, the narrative was wonderful and something that happens between William and Black in the end will make the reader think.  However, after taking a few days to contemplate this book before writing the review, I still feel like the author never really got her point across and I even looked back through the book several times thinking maybe I missed something.  Describing Bellman & Black as a ghost story is misleading – dark and depressing, definitely – scary and suspenseful, no, not even in the gothic sense.  I’ll be interested to see what other readers have to say about this book – maybe they can figure out the purpose of this story.

This review is based on a digital ARC from the publisher through NetGalley.

4 thoughts on “Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield

  1. Yes, I agree! On the one hand, it is written well, almost lyrically in parts, but on the other hand the story never really captivated me. Part of my ambivalence towards it stems from its description. It is not a ghost story. I don’t think there is any way to really interpret it as a ghost story other than certain aspects of it are haunting and that the protagonist is indeed ‘haunted’. I may have warmed to it a little more if I hadn’t started this expecting something quite different.
    Kind regards, Freaky Folk Tales


  2. And I agree with you that the protagonist is ‘haunted’ – great way of putting it. I also had different expectations – maybe if the book was marketed differently they would find a better target audience. Thanks for commenting!


  3. This is in my TBR pile and I’m hoping to get to it soon. Most reviews seem to agree with, but I think that although there is disappointment in not really reading a ghost story, it sounds like a good example of some very good writing.


    1. You’re right, Sherrey, I had no problem with the writing at all – it was very descriptive and flowed well, but a lot of reviewers did feel misled about it being described as a ghost story.


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