Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield

November 5th, 2013 Kimberly Review 64 Comments

5th Nov
Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield
Bellman & Black
by Diane Setterfield
Genres: Fantasy, Mystery, Paranormal
Source: Publisher
Purchase*: Amazon *affiliate
Rating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

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 was my first foray into the mind and writing of Diane Setterfield. I have heard countless recommendations and praise regarding her earlier work, The Thirteenth Tale and decided to take a chance. The writing is beautiful, dark and unsettling at times. Mini review: atmospheric, dark, clever, and unsettling.

The tale begins when we meet our protagonists as he revisits the summer he and his friends were eleven. It was a summer of magic, of boys being boys, of limited possibilities. It was also when, with his well crafted sling-shot, he took aim and made an impossible shot; killing a black rook. It is a deed that will haunt him and overshadow events throughout his life. Described as a ghost story, it is more than that, as our protagonist William Bellman struggles with the demons that dance in his self-conscious. This was an odd tale of one man’s life, reminiscent of Charles Dickens and perhaps written in an attempt to capture the dark beauty that is, Edgar Allen Poe.

William Bellman is an odd man, complex, driven, haunted and an unreliable narrator. The man was haunted, in particular by events and a mystery man named Black. Tragedy and loss, success and restlessness, haunt our protagonist. While I cannot say I ever warmed up to William, I certainly experienced his emotions. I couldn’t help but wonder if William was simply disturbed, or if he was truly plagued, making the tale compelling and unsettling. We meet his family, and other characters that help shape our opinions and reveal sides of William. The characters William interacts with aren’t fleshed out, including his daughter who herself was an odd creature. I was intrigued by her, and wish her presence was more in-depth. There are love interests, but even those are overshadowed by William’s thoughts and drive.

Bellman & Black was beautifully written, wholly character driven and deliciously strange. Fans of Hitchcock and Poe will enjoy its odd nuances. The tale takes us through William’s life from the darkest to the brightest moments.  We get caught up in his emotions, drive, fears and perhaps paranoia. The plot itself moves at a meandering pace, with heightened moments as we travel towards meeting Black. Throughout the book, we are given information about the Rook all of which I found fascinating. As I read I had a sense of foreboding, and constantly wondered as to William’s state of mind. This book was never boring, but the pacing may disappoint some. I am a huge fan of Poe and Dickens and some of the author’s dark and atmospheric passages regarding death and loss captured their essence. This is not your typical ghost story, and I am even hesitant to mention that, since I feel it will mislead the reader. Refreshing and different Bellman & Black was a tale that I enjoyed but fear it will only appeal to a unique audience. I would be selective as to whom I would recommend it.

Bellman & Black was a dark tale that will unsettle and fascinate the reader. It is not one you will read at a maddening pace, or become euphoric after reading. Instead it will make you ponder, and the next time you see a Rook, you might stop and pause.

Four cups of black coffee out of five
One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

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About Kimberly
Kimberly is a coffee loving book addict who reads and listens to fictional stories in all genres. Whovian, Ravenclaw and Howler. She owns and manages Caffeinated PR. The coffee is always on and she is ready to chat. Find @kimbacaffeinate on Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

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64 Responses to “Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield”

  1. Ashley LaMar

    I always find it interesting to read other reviews of books I’ve read. I reviewed Bellman & Black last week and I didn’t like it at all. I found it boring and I found the characters to be very lackluster and uninteresting. I had to force my way through it even though the writing, as you said, was beautiful. I agree w/ what you said about recommending the book. There will be people, like me, who didn’t care for the book at all while there will be others, like you, who love it. It certainly has its audience. She had much success with The Thirteenth Tale so there’s no doubt she has her fans.

    • kimbacaffeinate

      Well said Ashley, and so true which is why there are some many different flavors of books. I love Poe and Dickens so I was able to slip right into this and enjoyed her atmospheric tale. Thank you 🙂

  2. Berls

    This is a definite for me – I’m a very character driven reader and I’ve really been loving unsettling books lately. Great review, thanks for sharing!

    • kimbacaffeinate

      I really enjoyed this one and hope you get a chance to read it.

  3. Vicky

    So glad you enjoyed it! I have both of her books on my to-be-reviewed pile and I’m really looking forward to reading them. I’ve heard so many good things about both!

    • kimbacaffeinate

      I was impressed and I look forward to trying the 13th Tale. Enjoy them both Vicky 🙂

    • kimbacaffeinate

      That is why I love that there are so many different genres and voices..we can all find books we enjoy 🙂

  4. Lauren

    This sounds wonderful! I love an unreliable narrator when it’s done well, it always adds such delicious tension and mystery to the story. I loved The 13th Tale, and I can predict I’m going to love this one too. Lovely review!

    • kimbacaffeinate

      I love Poe and Dickens so this was a wonderful read for me. I am hoping to read 13th Tale soon 🙂

  5. Heidi

    I read The Thirteenth tale a couple of years ago since it was highly praised and it was also billed as a ghost story, but in reality it wasn’t. It ended up being dark and twisted and unsettling and it left me feeling icky. I am not eager to pick up another book by this author even though I did like her writing. the ick factor just got to me!

    • kimbacaffeinate

      You have me curious about the icky. When I think icky I think unsettling or creepy crawlies. Her writing style isn’t something that will appeal to everyone.

    • kimbacaffeinate

      Thanks Pam, I enjoyed this, you know how I love to mix things up, so this was a nice change.

  6. Ginny

    I have this, started reading it and then realized this was one of those books that I will need to spread out and let the scenes settle in before continuing on. The writing is very poetic and like you said very dark and unsettling at times. Very good review. I’m looking forward to finishing it but determined not to rush it.

    • kimbacaffeinate

      Agreed Ginny, either it is a total mood read and you just lose yourself in it, or you read small doses.

  7. Kristilyn (Reading in Winter)

    Oooh … great review! I actually have this one as an ARC on my ereader, but have been seeing it over and over again at the grocery store, so I picked up a physical copy, too. I just loved The Thirteenth Tale, so I know this one has got to be good!

  8. Trish

    I love Poe so the comparison peaks my interest. Sounds very unique and I have no doubt but that I’ll check it out sometime. I have heard nothing but good about this author and really want to try one of her books.

    • kimbacaffeinate

      She is not mainstream but her voice is lovely, dark and atmospheric 🙂

  9. Giselle

    Ooh man you so have to read The Thirteenth Tale! I loved that one and it’s equally as atmospheric and cryptically written! It has been a while since I’ve read it and I still remember it very clearly. I really want to read this one, too, and so far the reviews have been pretty good on average so yay!

    • kimbacaffeinate

      Bad internet, I shall not allow it to watch Doctor Who tonight.

  10. Melissa (Books and Things)

    Oh I am so going to add this one to my wishlist. I’m a total wimp but this one doesn’t look like it would scare me too much. I don’t mind dark at all. The writing also sounds wonderful. Brilly review. You also pushed 13th Tale up my wishlist as well. 🙂

  11. Candace

    I love that it’s atmospheric and that it will make you think and ponder. I’m not sure if it’s one I would like or not. I sometimes enjoy books like this and I sometimes don’t. I suppose it all comes down to mood.

  12. Jenea

    I think this sounds pretty good. I love Poe, so I would probably enjoy this. 🙂 Wonderful review.

    • kimbacaffeinate

      *waves to fellow Poe fan * Yes, you should try it Jenea 🙂

  13. Tanja

    I have read her The Thirteenth Tale and really enjoyed it. I can see that the author still manages to craft her writing that way to fits the main emotion in the story. I really love that in The Thirteenth Tale. So glad you enjoyed this one and I’ve been waiting for the translation. 🙂

  14. Lily B

    I have heard good things about The Thirteenth Tale , so this intrigues me. Never read either of them, but Bellman & Black sounds dark, but well written. I can see the appeal.

    • kimbacaffeinate

      Thanks Lily, it sticks with you long after you close the book.

  15. A Voracious Reader

    I saw this awhile ago, probably when you first picked it up. I know I saw it on someone’s blog, I think it was yours. lol Anyway, I thought about adding it and then forgot. Luckily, it’s still available on NetGalley. Hopefully, I’ll get it. 🙂

  16. Jenny

    This probably isn’t a book for me Kim as I have struggled in the past with Poe and Dickens and I tend to gravitate toward books that have a bit of a quicker pace, but I so enjoyed reading your thoughts. And the cover is absolutely gorgeous. Love it!

    • kimbacaffeinate

      Yes, the pace moves slowly and there is very little action. Peeps will either love it or hate it.

  17. Christa

    I haven’t read the 13th Tale but like you I’ve heard a lot of good things. This sounds really interesting and I can’t wait to read it.

    • kimbacaffeinate

      I think you will like her,if you enjoy Dickens and Poe 🙂

  18. Tammy

    I have to admit I read The Thirteenth Tale way back when it came out, and it just didn’t blow me away. It was good, but nothing I’d think about twice. But I’m loving the cover, which always makes me want to read something a little bit more (!) so I might give this a chance.

    • kimbacaffeinate

      She is the type of writer who won’t appeal to everyone. The cover is wonderful Tammy I agree.

  19. kindlemom1

    I absolutely loved her debut novel The Thirteenth Tale when I read it a few years ago and was so excited to see that she (finally!) had another book coming out. I have seen some disappointing reviews though that have been disheartening so it is nice to see a positive one! I really do have high hopes for this.

    • kimbacaffeinate

      It unfolds slowly, and is not for everyone, not a lot of action..but I just loved her voice, and the images.

  20. Julie S.

    I loved the Thirteenth Tale and absolutely recommend it, especially if you like her writing style after reading Bellman and Black. I’m looking forward to reading this one.

    • kimbacaffeinate

      Yes, the writing style is either something you will love or you won’t.

  21. Debbie Haupt

    OH Kimba, I LOVED The Thirteenth Tale and it remains sitting on my keeper shelf that I only lend if I can depend on the recipient. I met Diane through the now defunct First Look program that B& had for a few years where selected readers got an arc and read and discussed the tale as a group with the author included. This is in fact what I base my own On-Line reading group on (and am always looking for more readers). So knowing her writing and narrative style I do agree that it will not appeal to the general reading population but more to the literary reader.
    I have got to get this.
    Thanks for as usual your wonderful review

  22. Nick

    This sounds like an interesting book. It seems like its deep and profound. Plus, you know how much I love character-driven stories.
    Lovely review, Kim!

    • kimbacaffeinate

      This kept you on edge, even though the tale unfolded slowly since you weren’t really sure of the narrator. Love it 🙂

  23. Mary

    Unsettling can be good though, sometimes I get too unsettled and then I can’t sleep. That’s not good. But this doesn’t sound like that kind — it sounds like the mystery kind with odd characters. THAT, I can do!