Sunday, January 05, 2014

Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield

Protagonist: William Bellman
Setting: England, 19th century
Rating: 2.5

As an 11-year-old boy, William Bellman, out with a group of friends, tries out his new catapault. Against all odds, the rock he slings hits and kills a black rook. Years pass, and William Bellman seems to be a success in all areas of his life: business as well as personal, marrying a woman he loves and raising children. But then a mysterious stranger continues showing up at family funerals. When Bellman's most immediate family is touched by a plague, Bellman makes (in his mind, at least) a pact with this stranger.

This is where the story falls apart. While beautifully written (Setterfield is nothing less than a poet), the plot is very thin and the character of Bellman, on which the story hinges, is not really plumbed. Black rooks, of course, haunt Bellman's life, but in a not-very-scary way.

If you loved Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale, a deliciously gothic tale, you may very well be disappointed in this follow-up book. If you haven't read a Setterfield book yet, then I recommend The Thirteenth Tale. You can skip Bellman & Black.