Bellman & Black: Wordy Wednesday

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Bellman & Black: A Novel

Title: Bellman & Black Author: Diane Setterfield
Publisher: Atria Books Rating: 4star
Publication Date: 2013 Genre: Historical Fiction

Why Picked: Received from NetGalley for Review
First Line:

I have heard it said, by those that cannot possibly know, that in the final moments of a man’s existence he sees his whole life pass before his eyes.


As a boy, William Bellman commits one small cruel act that appears to have unforseen and terrible consequences. The killing of a rook with his catapult is soon forgotten amidst the riot of boyhood games. And by the time he is grown, with a wife and children of his own, he seems indeed, to be a man blessed by fortune.

Until tragedy strikes, and the stranger in black comes, and William Bellman starts to wonder if all his happiness is about to be eclipsed. Desperate to save the one precious thing he has left, he enters into a bargain. A rather strange bargain, with an even stranger partner, to found a decidedly macabre business.

And Bellman & Black is born. [1]


Bellman & Black is labeled a ghost story and herein lays the story summary’s most hated feature for non professional reviewers. Where are the ghosts? They are there. They are just not quite so obvious so the ones in the plethora of urban fantasy on the bookshelves today.

This is the story of William Bellman, the boy who kills a rook and the man who pays the price. William Bellman and 3 of his childhood friends out playing one day, decide to see who has the best slingshot and the best aim. William, in a shot which is described throughout the book as beautiful in its arc and range, wins the day by shooting far enough to actually kill one the rooks the boys were aiming at. They then ignore all of the mythic legends about rooks and luck.

Set in the 19th century, this story is told much at the pace of the time is it setting not is writing. The slow and unhurried pace of its beginning, as you find out who our young William is, the abandoned son of the son of the Mill owner, the quick thinking young man with a mind for business, the young husband and kind father.

But the pace begins to pick up as the deaths begin and then as they increase. And at each one Bellman sees the Gentleman in Black, until he has lost almost everyone and everything, except his daughter Dora. It is at this point Mr. Bellman’s life changes. He believes he makes a deal to save Dora that he will embark on a new business which will benefit both him and Mr. Black. The rest of the story centers on the building of the Bellman & Black Empire and the unraveling of Mr. Bellman himself.

While I enjoyed this book I am baffled by many of the criticisms leveled against it. So many people are unsure at the end of where the ghosts are, and who the mysterious Mr. Black “really” is and how does the poor seamstress Lizzie know Mr. Black. I really want to tell them that they are firstly reading to much modern paranormal where everything is obvious and there is no more subtlety in their lives. And two, I want to tell them to read the book again because I think it is very obvious the answer to the last two questions. While there are some questions I would like to have answered, these are not among them.

I will admit to a bit of surprise at how much I enjoyed this book given its pacing and it Dickensian tone. I think the story would have been better for me if there had been less details about his retail life and and more details about the characters. I think once it was established that he was whip smart and ambitious (in the beginning) and driven and single-minded (in the middle) we could have had less mill/store detail and more character detail. And I would have cared more at the end. However, even without falling in love with the characters, I did have a driving need to find out what the resolution of the story was. And in the end Mr. Bellman’s debt was paid in full.