One of the best books I’ve ever reviewed on this site was Diane Setterfeld’s The Thirteenth Tale. I referred to it then as “psychological terror that just drips with suspense.” Since Ms. Setterfeld waited seven whole years before publishing her second novel, Bellman & Black, I thought for sure that it would be just as good. Unfortunately, I was wrong. The cover advertises it as a ghost story, but I really don’t think that’s the case. It’s more a character study than anything, and I think fans of The Thirteenth Tale are going to be a little disappointed.
Don’t get me wrong…Setterfeld writes just as beautifully and has an interesting concept going here. When William Bellman was a young child, he killed a rook with his catapult in front of some other boys. This incident seems to have been forgotten, and as a young man, it seems everything he touches turns to gold. He becomes owner of a local mill, and through his hard work and planning skills, it is ultra successful. He marries a local girl, has a few children, and really seems to be living a charmed life. Then the deaths start happening, and at every funeral, William sees the same man. After speaking to this man (whom he calls Black) late one night at the cemetery, William seems to remember making a deal with him to open a “mourning” warehouse. The man disappears, but William carries on with developing the, of course, extremely successful business, calling it Bellman & Black. As the suspense builds, the reader knows that Bellman will eventually see Black again but in what capacity?
I’m not going to put it mildly…the ending to Bellman & Black is atrocious. It doesn't make sense to me at all, and I’m still confused as to how William killing the rook has much to do with the rest of the story. But even though this book is nothing like The Thirteenth Tale, Setterfeld writes in such an atmospheric way that it’s still worth a read. Let’s hope that it doesn’t take her another seven years to write her next book…and that the third book is more like her first.