Reviews for Bellman & Black


Booklist Reviews 2013 October #1
This poetic and mysterious novel by the author of The Thirteenth Tale (2006) tells of William Bellman, who we first meet as a boy out with his friends in the English countryside. William impresses his companions by killing a rook with his slingshot, and as the years go by, he continues to impress. A winning young man with a knack for business, he rises to the top of a local mill, marries and has four bright children, and expects all of his days to be equally blessed. Then disease comes to his town. It takes his wife and three of his children, and, in desperation, William makes a deal with a black-coated stranger. His eldest daughter is spared, but William is unable to face reminders of his happy past. He pours himself into industry, moving to London and opening Bellman & Black. As the years fly by, William becomes a kind of Ebenezer Scrooge, obsessed with work and haunted by the appearance of crows, and Setterfield is our Dickensian conscience, reminding us of what coins can and cannot buy. Copyright 2013 Booklist Reviews.

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BookPage Reviews 2013 November
Cursed by a fateful childhood act

Seven years after her mesmerizing first novel, The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield returns with Bellman & Black, a ghost story that’s both terrifyingly familiar and unlike any such tale you’ve ever read. As in her previous novel, Setterfield once again transports us into a world of irresistible Gothic suspense, this time weaving in unsettling ruminations on mortality, nature and how far a man will go to save what he loves.

As a young boy, William Bellman kills a rook with his catapult. It’s an act of boyhood curiosity and playfulness, but it will alter his entire life. As a young man, William is promising, bright and handsome. As he grows into adulthood, he builds a successful business and has a lovely wife and children he adores—but then it all begins to crumble, and a mysterious man in black appears. Desperate to save what little of his former life remains, William makes a deal with the oddly familiar stranger, and a grim new business venture is born that will consume him.

Despite the story’s macabre premise, Setterfield never gives in to the temptations of garish sensationalism. This is a slow-burning, creepily realistic tale, woven together with practical but often magically transformative prose that moves the reader from the comforts of an idyllic domestic life to the depths of despairing determination. Even with all its strangeness, Bellman & Black never loses sight of its emotional core, and that makes it a deeply affecting journey. Quite simply, Setterfield has done it again.

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our Meet the Author interview with Diane Setterfield for Bellman & Black.

Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.

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Kirkus Reviews 2013 September #2
A boy hits the wrong bird with a slingshot, with lifelong consequences, in this second venture into gothic territory from Setterfield, author of the hugely popular The Thirteenth Tale (2006). The book begins in the mid-19th century, in an English village whose focal point is a textile mill. At age 10, William Bellman, showing off for two friends, shoots a rook with a slingshot. Two decades later, William is rising rapidly through the ranks at the mill. He is the nephew of Paul, the owner's son, however, William's advancement is due more to sheer diligence than to nepotism. He has mastered every aspect of the mill's operation when a series of unfortunate events advances his career prospects beyond his wildest dreams. The owner dies, apparently of old age, then Paul expires suddenly. Other deaths follow in quick succession, including those of William's mother and Luke, one of two witnesses to the slingshot incident. Only the reader is aware, due in part to the appearance of these birds before each death and intermittent segments detailing the mythology and lore surrounding them, that rooks are harbingers of doom. William is oblivious, although a stranger in black appears at each funeral, regarding him sardonically. By now, William owns the mill since the last heir, Charles, an artist, also suffered a rook-related death after William's artistically gifted daughter Dora showed Charles a drawing of her favorite black-plumaged bird. It isn't until most of William's family are wiped out by an epidemic that he suspects the strange Mr. Black's role in all this. Desperate to save Dora, he enters into a bargain with Black, the exact terms of which remain obscure, even at times to William, but it involves opening a Selfridge's-like London emporium specializing in the trappings of mourning and funerals. Although this novel succeeds in creating an atmosphere of creeping dread, the effect is attenuated by too much detail about the running of mills and department stores and also by a growing puzzlement over why an impulsive childhood transgression, never repeated, should exact such a terrible penalty. A gothic tale in which moments of tedium are relieved by morbidity. Copyright Kirkus 2013 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

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Library Journal Reviews 2013 June #1

As a child, William Bellman nastily kills a bird with a slingshot but doesn't suffer the consequences until decades later when all his good fortune starts crumbling away. Soon, a black-garbed stranger arrives, and William finds that he can save what little he has left if he agrees to enter into the spooky business concern that becomes Bellman & Black. You expected something lighthearted after the dark and intriguing knottiness of Setterfield's No. 1 New York Times best seller, The Thirteenth Tale? Lots of anticipation; over 800 folks have already proclaimed their interest on Goodreads.

[Page 78]. (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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Library Journal Reviews 2013 October #1

William Bellman is just ten years old when he commits an act that will haunt him the rest of his life--the killing of an innocent rook. In adulthood, William is building the perfect life for himself with a gorgeous wife and a brood of children, as he works his way up at his family's mill. But he and his family are stalked by creepy black birds. Tragedies slowly begin piling up--first friends and distant relatives, then his wife and children. At each funeral, he spies a man wearing all black. While waiting for his final child to die, William visits the grave of his wife and runs into the mysterious Mr. Black. William enters into a Faustian bargain with Mr. Black, saving his daughter and resulting in the development of Bellman & Black, a funeral emporium. VERDICT While billed as a ghost story, Setterfield's (The Thirteenth Tale) sophomore effort seems more a gothic psychological study with the dark vibe of an Edgar Allan Poe tale. Lovers of true ghost stories may be disappointed, but fans of Setterfield's best-selling debut will snatch this one up. [See Prepub Alert, 5/13/13.]--Chelsie Harris, San Diego Cty. Lib.

[Page 68]. (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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