Review: Bellman & Black

Bellman and Black

Bellman & Black
By Diane Setterfield
(Atria/Emily Bestler Books, Hardcover, 9781476711959, October 8, 2013, 224pp.)
*No Spoilers*

The Short of It:

Highly anticipated but absolutely NOT what it appears to be.

The Rest of It:

The Thirteenth Tale, published in 2006 was one of those sleeper success stories that you hear about. A quiet tale, well written and haunting with vivid imagery. It was a book to cozy up to and I loved it. I think I told everyone I knew about it and they all agreed that it was fabulous. We could not wait for her next book, but year after year passed and no word on whether she’d ever write another.

Enter, Bellman & Black.

The book officially comes out on October 8th but when I received the ARC, I literally jumped up and down and stroked the cover no less than three times. First, I received the e galley which was great, but then I received the gorgeous paperback and it took my breath away. Such a gorgeous cover. I couldn’t resist it. Who could? I dove right in.

As a young boy, William Bellman shoots and kills a young bird with his slingshot. This act comes back to haunt him as an adult as the image of the bird, falling to the ground, is replayed over and over in his mind. Not sure of its meaning, Bellman makes a conscious decision to push it out of his mind and forge ahead with business which is where his passions lie. At one point, he has it all, a loving wife and family, the success of his business and the promise of more good things to come.

But then, everything changes. What was once good, becomes tragic as Bellman slowly loses those around him. In a desperate attempt to save what he has, he makes a deal. One that cannot be reversed and has horrible consequences.

As a story, it’s ALL been done before. The parts about his business, funeral wear, were somewhat novel in nature, but Setterfield never explores the grief felt by the town as Bellman cashes in on the unfortunate death of others. His love for his daughter is a tad superficial and as a reader, we never get to know Dora all that well. Her role is to be the constant reminder of all that’s gone wrong and little else. Yawn.

With every page, I kept waiting for the ghost story to begin and when I hit those last thirty pages, I realized that it would never happen. Is it a ghost story? Technically, yes, but while you’re reading it you will argue that it’s not because it doesn’t feel like one. It’s not chilling, or haunting or suspenseful in any way. There is no real “setting” and if you read The Thirteenth Tale, you may recall how very atmospheric the writing was. Well, you won’t get that here no matter how hard you look for it.

I thought carefully about how to say this, but this book was a huge disappointment. Forget that I had high hopes for it. The blurbs that I saw early on really made me think this was a classic ghost story. I’ve since checked the blurbs again and now they seem much more on par with what it’s about, but still. If you are looking for a classic ghost story this fall, this is not it. However, I highly recommend her first book, The Thirteenth Tale as it still remains one of my faves to this day.

RIP 8 Main

I am including this read as part of the RIP VIII challenge.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

28 thoughts on “Review: Bellman & Black”

  1. I didn’t like The Thirteenth Tale as much as I had expected to at the time, so I was probably going to pass on reading Bellman & Black, anyway, but sorry that it was disappointing! So often publishers’ blurbs are very misleading, maybe unintentionally, and authors must worry that readers will go into the book expecting something completely different, as you did!

  2. Oh I SO loved The Thirteenth Tale on audio…I just remember I walked and walked and walked while listening and I never wanted to stop. What made it so special was the storytelling and the subtle gothic creepiness of it. So this? This is so disappointing. I hadn’t received a copy or pre-ordered it, and I am glad. That gives me room for Doctor Sleep.

    1. I really don’t know what happened with Bellman & Black. She took so many years to come out with another book. Truthfully, I’ve no idea how long she had been working on this one but after such a long hiatus from writing, I expected a KILLER ghost story. It doesn’t even qualify as a ghost story really. It’s so subtle and anti-climactic. I kept reading and hoping that there would be suspense somewhere. I even asked Nadia at one point to please tell me it would get better and no response! LOL!

      I thought at one point that she pulled a fast one on us and got excited, but then the ending told me that no, that was just wishful thinking on my part.


      1. The book would have been better served had it been advertised as a fable. Reading with that in mind and seeing the one similarity with The Thirteenth Tale, that being the interweaving of at least two stories, would have prepared the reader and created a better response to the book.
        I enjoyed the book, but I don’t know another story that can compare with The Thirteenth Tale! It and The Goldfinch are the major standouts from my having read dozens of books a year…for a long time!!

  3. I felt exactly the same way. I tried to keep my expectations in check, but I think that even if I hadn’t read and loved The Thirteenth Tale, that this one would have been a disappointment.

  4. That’s tough when you’re looking forward to reading a book and it’s disappointing! I hate that. But it seems like this one also suffered from some poor blurbs too. I’ll wait awhile before I pick up this one.

  5. Your review was spot on! I totally agree with you on what a huge disappointment this book was 😦 There was no ghost story and that was the main reason I picked up the book – I wanted a classic ghost story! Oh well. On to better books!

  6. I always dislike reading negative reviews – as a writer it’s sad and scary to see a book fail to connect and as a reader it’s like having a bubble burst, but sometimes it has to happen. I’m jealous the you get to read “This House is Haunted” so early. I can’t wait for your review of that. I don’t know if it’s on your list but PLEASE consider reading “The Reason I Jump” by Higashida. It’s a short read but it’s one of those books you read and then wish you’d read it years and years ago. Everyone who sees this actually please consider reading “The Reason I Jump”.

    1. I don’t write negative reviews all that often because I am usually pretty good about picking books that I know I will like or appreciate in some way. This was a surprise. And for some reason, I feel more comfortable writing negative reviews when I’ve loved another book by the same author. It’s like, I have confidence in them to write great stories, but we all know that sometimes a story falls prey to editing, or decisions made by others. I don’t fault the author entirely for that.

      I just wish the book had been marketed to reflect what it actually is and not made out to be the next great ghost story. That publicity set us all up to believe it was one thing, when it clearly, was not.

      BTW, I added the book you mentioned to my Goodreads list.

      1. I thought you did a wonderful negative review. Your criticisms were fair and presented honestly and respectfully. I had a writing teacher in high school who tore my writing assignment in half and told me to start again. In front of the whole class. I was a really shy kid and it was brutal. Once he even circled everything wrong with a student’s paper and posted it in the hallway for everyone to see. She was humiliated. So I love that your reviews are always so thoughtful (in both the considerate and cerebral sense).

  7. Oh no, how disappointing. I was thinking “ghost story” as well. Still, I’ll have to give it a try as, I also liked the author’s Thirteenth Tale —I will, however, lower my expectations:)

  8. It’s disappointing when you wait so long for a book and it doesn’t live up to the expectations. I haven’t read Thirteenth Tale so that’s a title I am looking forward to.

    1. Even taking that out of the equation, there wasn’t enough of anything else to make it a worthwhile read. There were loose ends and story lines that started and never really went anywhere. Lots of potential, which probably made it even more frustration that it fizzled the way it did.


  9. Like most people, I LOVED The Thirteenth Tale and I have been really looking forward to this book. I’m very disappointed you didn’t like lt. I still plan to read it but now I will go in with lower expectations and more knowing. I appreciate your candor and insight, as always.

  10. Hard to not go in with high expectations. I’ve downloaded this one but I’m not much looking forward to it after several reviews like yours.

  11. I find that second novels are often disappointing (sophomore slump I guess). I haven’t gotten to reading Setterfield yet, but now I know I should start with Thirteenth Tale. Thanks for a solid review!

  12. I’m glad I wasn’t the only one disappointed here. Thanks for sharing. I agree with you 100% on all points. Just wrote my review today and felt guilty. Even more guilty than I did when I thought about not finishing the book at all.

    Would love to read your review of “This House is Haunted”. I just finished it this week, and I’m working on my review.

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