Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield

bellman_blackI received an advanced copy of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

One of my most anticipated novels this year is Bellman & Black, mainly because I loved The Thirteenth Tale, which is one of my absolute favourite gothic tales.  Diane Setterfield brings us her second novel 7 years after the success of her debut novel and I was really excited to read Bellman & Black!

The novel starts off slowly, by introducing us to the characters and family members of the Bellman family. The story’s protagonist is William Bellman, a young boy who is raised by his widowed mother, who isn’t really a widow. Truth is her husband left her, but she is too embarrassed by it, so she lies about it. William and his mother receive no support or even recognition from the Bellman family. The reasons for that get revealed later in the novel which gives more insight into the Bellman family dynamics, which includes mysteries, infidelity and scandal.

William is out playing with his friends and cousin one day and by accident kills a rook with his catapult (known to me as a slingshot). A seemly innocent act has consequences, which he realised when he grows up.  The Bellman family owns a mill and when William is grown he takes over the running of the mill from his cousin (much to his grandfather’s grievance) and William turns into a savvy and successful businessman. All is going well with him, he is rich, has a successful business and a wife and kids, until one day his innocent childhood act catches up with him.  People close to him starts dying, including his wife and kids, but one child remains: his daughter. Desperate to save her life, he makes a deal with a mysterious man, which he calls “Mr Black” – this man that shows up at every funeral, yet is so difficult to get hold of. Like he is a ghost…

Although described as a ghost story, I didn’t find that that it was; it just didn’t feel that way. I didn’t think that is was suspenseful enough. The book is well written, indeed, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would.  Reason for that might be that I had high expectations based on her debut novel and the words “ghost story”. Honestly, if I had read this, without having read The Thirteenth Tale previously I would have liked it a little bit more. Apart from it being well written, I do think there are other positives such as the fact that the story sort of centres around “actions have consequences”, family secrets and intrigues, a woman’s pain over the rejection of her husband, yet having the strength to not show it for the sake of her child.

I would recommend this to those who are looking for a nice and quick weekend read, and even to those who enjoyed her debut novel. Let me know what you think, if you read it.

This novel will be published on the 5th of November 2013!

Image source

  • Oh sweet! I loved the Thirteenth Tale and I wondered if she would bring out another book…and now she is!! Thanks for this, I guess I can’t wait to read it! Great reviews.

    • Thanks Nina, I hope that you will enjoy reading this one!

      • Me too! 🙂

        • Just don’t expect something like The Thirteenth Tale, I think her debut was way better 🙂

          • It’s been a while since I read The Thirteenth Tale (simply there are no words to explain how amazing that story was), so I won’t be comparing, but I guess I will be expecting it to at least be a good read! 🙂

          • It wasn’t bad at all. The Thirteenth Tale was just awesome, I remember googling similar books shortly after reading it!

          • Sweet!
            Yeah, nothing can quite match up once something is “just too awesome”. I remember, I think, reading some reviews after, and there were one or two that didn’t think it was all that great. And I was like, puh-lease!
            I think I did that too, but I can’t remember if I managed to find any :S, did you?

          • You know, I think I read The Shadow of the Wind and I wanted similar books, so goodreads recommended Rebecca, by Du Maurier and The Thirteenth Tale! I can’t remember which one of the two I read first, but I do know that I was impressed by BOTH. Lovely books! So if you haven’t read Rebecca, you totally should!

          • Oh I Have actually read Rebecca, in fact I read it before The Thirteenth Tale AND it was probably the first book from the previous century that I really enjoyed (and which got me to read other contemp classics)! So yep, Rebecca, The Thirteenth Tale, loved them both! But I haven’t read The Shadow of the Wind, so maybe I will check that out next! 🙂

  • 🙁 I’ve been looking forward to this one too, but I was hoping for more ghost in my ghost story. Ah well, will see how it goes. Either way, at least it’s a quick read! I’m sorry to say I haven’t read The Thirteenth Tale yet, although I got a very nice hardcover edition at an EB sale.

    • Yeah, I was slightly disappointed, because I was expecting something in the line of The Thirteenth Tale or The Angel’s Game. You should definitely read the book if you have it.

  • I think there are a lot of us out there who are going to read this because we liked The Thirteenth Tale so much, and like you i fear we are going to find this one a little lacking. That being said, I’m still totally looking forward to it, even if I don’t love it.

    • I don’t think that it’s a bad book, in retrospect it’s not, however it didn’t live up to “ghost story”, regardless of me having expectations based on the first novel. I hope that you enjoy reading it, Tanya!

  • I was disappointed when I heard mixed reviews of this book, since I also loved The Thirteenth Tale. I am glad you recommend it- I will read it soon I hope. Plus it has been a few years since I read 13th, so maybe I won’t compare the two so much!

    • I also read The Thirteenth Tale a few years ago, and remember looking for other books from her. She made us wait long! I do think it’s a nice book to read 🙂

  • So pleased to hear you enjoyed this. I have it on my pile and will be reading in a few weeks. And now I’m truly looking forward to it!

    • I didn’t enjoy it, Helen. I felt that it was lacking a bit, but I do NOT think it’s a bad book. I hope you enjoy the read!

      • I just reread your review and had totally missed that point whoops…sorry. I blame reading it on my phone!

        Well I’m glad that it wasn’t a bad back. I’m yet to read The Thirteenth Tale so I have no expectations of this one.

        • It’s okay, I pointed out the positives too, because I didn’t believe it’s BAD 🙂
          I really hope you get to read The Thirteenth Tale and especially that you enjoy it 🙂

  • Isi

    I knew you didn’t like it that much. You know I have been “pre-approved”, and when I saw the author I said ¡¡¡¡Yes!!!! The thing is that I haven’t read The thirteenth tale, so I have no expectations. Hope to like it a little bit more; I like the mystery about Mr Black, for a start 😉
    I’ll read it in October and then I’ll let you know my thoughts.

    • Yay for being pre-approved! 🙂 You should read The Thirteenth Tale after you read this one, I have a feeling that if you’re going to like this one you will definitely enjoy the first book even more 😉

      • Isi

        Yes, I also think it will be like that. I’m going to like both! I say!

        • Enjoy! Looking forward to your review of The Thirteenth Tale, especially 😉

  • Such a bummer that it seems to be the consensus that this one just isn’t as good as Thirteenth Tale. Sorry that true for you too. I have a copy on my shelf but haven’t gotten to it yet.

    • I definitely think The Thirteenth Tale was better, but maybe there will be people who like this one more, who knows? I hope you enjoy the read once you get to it, Trish!

  • I’m reading The Thirteenth Tale for the first time starting today. I wonder if reading outside of the hype will make me feel differently about which I prefer more once I finally get around to her newest.

    • I’m glad you are reading The Thirteenth Tale! Looking forward to your thoughts on it. I hope you enjoy B&B when you get to it too. It depends ofcourse on what type of books you enjoy… 13th tale is a gothic novel, very well done. B&B is suppose to be a ghost story, but it didn’t feel that way.

  • You are one lucky duck! I cannot wait to read this book. I loved The Thirteenth Tale (one of my all-time favorite books). Thanks for a lovely review. I’m putting the release date on my iPad!


    • You do that 🙂
      I hope you enjoy the read too, it’s quite a short novel and I’m sure you will finish it in one weekend. I am a lucky duck, yes 🙂

  • I’m so bummed that you didn’t like this book that much. I’ve actually never read the author, but I hate when I’m disappointed by a much-anticipated followup.

    • That’s how I felt Allison, although I admit the book wasn’t bad, it was just my expectation. Her first book was so awesome, for me atleast. Are you planning on reading any of her two novels?

      • I don’t have any plans to right now, but maybe someday.

        • I would recommend The Thirteenth Tale, if you enjoyed Rebecca by Du Maurier, you will enjoy this one 🙂

  • I wasn’t a huge fan of The Thirteenth Tale, maybe my expectations were too high, but the premise of this book sounds good. Will definitely give it a try.

    Good review!

    • Thanks Nish! Enjoy the reading.

  • When I heard you did not enjoy it that much I got scared. I still have to read it myself and am curious if I agree or not. Great review!!

    • Thanks Ciska! Maybe you will enjoy it!

  • I totally agree with your review I enjoyed the book but partly because from reading reviews I already knew it wasn’t like TTT. If it hadn’t been tagged as a ghost story then the lack of ghostliness might have made more sense.

    • I’m glad that you enjoyed it! It sure wasn’t bad, but I didn’t read reviews beforehand, so I had that expectation 🙁

  • litandlife

    It does sound like this one has some interesting elements but you’re probably right that, after The Thirteenth Tale, this one would just have too high of a bar to reach.

    • It does have some interesting elements, yes, but the ghost story didn’t feel much like a “ghost story”. Are you planning on reading this?

  • I did not know she has a new book coming out soon…then again I have not read her other book

    • Yes, this is her second book! I hope you will read her books, she is a good writer.

  • Because I love your blog I have nominated you for a Shine On Award see the link here:

    • Thank you! will go check out your post 🙂

  • First of all, wow on all of the comments on this post! 😀

    Second, you already know I’m reading this in October with some of the other people, so hopefully we enjoy it more than you did. If not, oh well, you warned us!

    • Thanks! Yes, I think that many people were looking forward to B&B and therefore obviously curious about the review. I must say, it got almost as many comments as The Historian 😀

      I hope you will enjoy the book Rebecca! Have you read TTT?

  • Melinda, exquisite review of a book I’ve yet to read, and I’ve not read the author’s first book either. It will be interesting to see my reaction to Bellman & Black without the treat of that debut novel. Thanks for always finding intriguing books and reviewing them for the rest of us. Kudos on the number of comments today!

    • Thank you, Sherrey! I hope you will enjoy it, and I also hope that you will read her first novel, it’s one of my favourites.

  • I think that if I’d read this without having read The Thirteenth Tale first, I’d have DNF’d it. It makes me feel like a jerk though, because I wanted to like it so badly!

    • I think so too! I kept reading because I loved Diane’s writing! Did you review it? I should go check out your thougths…

  • I always try not to compare different books from the same author as there is always that book that will be a bit disappointing… At least it sounds as if Diane kept certain events real in terms of family dynamics which a lot of people can relate to. I still have to read The Thirteen Tale though.

    • You definitely have to read The Thirteenth Tale!

  • I completely agree about the lack of suspense. I think because it is pegged as a ghost story it ruined my enjoyment of it a bit because I was always left waiting for something ghostly to happen which, really, it never did. If I didn’t have that expectation I wonder if I would have liked it more. As it is, I loved the writing but did not love the book.

    • Exactly! My experience with the book was never because of “bad writing”, it’s just the expectation of a ghost story (plus maybe a little exceptation based on how good the first book was)