I had been warned that Bellman & Black was nothing like The Thirteenth Tale. And I wanted to believe that that was okay, that it would be fine, that Setterfield’s academic-y prose and excellent use of suspense would win out.
Goodreads describes Bellman & Black as:
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”
I really wanted to like this book. I toughed it out. I often fell asleep after reading only a couple of pages.
I liked William Bellman, but his life was almost too perfect. Things went too smoothly. Sure, he suffers (sort of) in the long run, and a lot of bad things happen to him, but really he succeeds in everything he sets out to do. Everyone seems to adore him (except his grandfather, but that’s another story).
The last forty or so pages were very, very interesting. That’s about the only part I could call “heart-thumping.” This is not so much a ghost story as it is a man being haunted by his own psyche (so it seems). Even after the most intense build up, there is no climax. It just sort of skips to resolution, and I’m not even sure what the final chapter was resolving.
It wasn’t even so much that I didn’t like Bellman & Black. Mostly I just felt let down.
Reviewed in Heels