I absolutely loved Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale, a great gothic mystery surrounding the details of a reclusive author’s life. I still recommend that book to people, so I was excited to finally have another book by Setterfield that I hoped would be just as fabulous.
Unfortunately, Bellman & Black completely let me down. I don’t know what happened between the The Thirteenth Tale and the release of Bellman & Black, but Setterfield lost her strong storytelling.
Bellman & Black follows the life of William Bellman and I loved how the story began with a young Will playing with three boys in the fields behind his house. Trying to appear older than his ten years, Will bets them he could use his new catapult to strike a rook in a far away tree. He ends up killing the rook and the boys go through a variety of emotions, from sadness to laughter to pride and back again. Little does Will realize, but his actions on this day will follow him the rest of his life.
In the rest of the book we see Will succeed in business, get married, and have children, but through it all there is a dark, ominous cloud hovering over him. Everyone that means something to Will dies while his business expands, and at every funeral a mysterious man in black appears.
As strong as the beginning of Bellman & Black was, the rest of the story fell apart, mostly because it’s all about Will and his business all the time. I could probably start a textile mill with how much we learn about fabric, dyes and expanding the business. A lot of this book revolves around Will thinking about his business, so this story is much more contemplative than plot driven. Actually, there really isn’t much of a plot. We jump through Will’s life, usually seeing where his business is at each point in his life, right before another person dies. We rarely get to see Will interact with that person, but instead it’s all about his business. We do sometimes see how Will the businessman suffers after certain deaths, but again, it’s looked at through the lens of the mill. If you want to read a novel about a textile mill, then this is the book for you.
There is a slight mystery with the man in black reappearing at different times in Will’s life, but it wasn’t enough to keep my interest. I kept reading because of my love for The Thirteenth Tale, but this never got anywhere near the caliber of that book. It doesn’t even feel like the same author wrote these two books. I highly recommend The Thirteenth Tale, but I can’t do the same for the slow-moving, lifeless Bellman & Black.