Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield

Bellman & BlackDuring a boyhood competition with his slingshot, William Bellman kills a crow and by doing so, unknowingly, sets the course of his future.  As a man, he is a success in business and has a thriving family but there is a subtle darkness that follows him.  It is when William thinks he has everything, that a sickness comes to his town and loved ones begin to die.  First, distant relations pass but slowly tragedy grows closer to his own family. At each funeral, there is the same figure, a smiling man dressed in black. Finally, Bellman has no one left but his favourite child, his beloved daughter, Dora, who seems to be failing as well.   In a state of drunkenness, William wanders to his wife’s fresh grave and there meets the stranger who offers him a bargain.

 Bellman & Black is being promoted as a ghost story, but it reminds me more of a good episode of the Twilight Zone. The action is slight and almost episodic but each page is filled with the type of atmosphere that leaves you both uneasy and expectant.  The story is set in the Victorian era, and the attention to detail is exquisite, especially the elaborate rules and paraphernalia that accompanied mourning. While I enjoyed the plot of the story, it was the underlying questions concerning fate and the cost of our mistakes, both to ourselves and others, which made the tale stay in my memory long after the last page was turned.

This was Setterfield’s second book, following her brilliant debut with 2006’s bestselling, “The Thirteenth Tale”.  Having read both, I suspect she has a long, brilliant writing career ahead of her.

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