Book Review: Bellman and Black: A Ghost Story

18243288Title: Bellman and Black: A Ghost Story

Author: Diane Setterfield

Genre: Historical Fiction, Gothic Mystery, Paranormal, Horror, Ghosts

Age Group: Adult

Rating: 2 stars

Purchase: Amazon

Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Bellman & Black is a heart-thumpingly perfect ghost story, beautifully and irresistibly written, its ratcheting tension exquisitely calibrated line by line. Its hero is William Bellman, who, as a boy of 11, killed a shiny black rook with a catapult, and who grew up to be someone, his neighbours think, who “could go to the good or the bad.” And indeed, although William Bellman’s life at first seems blessed—he has a happy marriage to a beautiful woman, becomes father to a brood of bright, strong children, and thrives in business—one by one, people around him die. And at each funeral, he is startled to see a strange man in black, smiling at him.

At first, the dead are distant relatives, but eventually his own children die, and then his wife, leaving behind only one child, his favourite, Dora. Unhinged by grief, William gets drunk and stumbles to his wife’s fresh grave—and who should be there waiting, but the smiling stranger in black. The stranger has a proposition for William—a mysterious business called “Bellman & Black” . . .

I feel cheated. When I saw Bellman and Black: A Ghost Story at our local book shop, it was in the “horror” section. When I looked it up, the title mentioned “a ghost story”, so of course I had to ask for a review copy, because I absolutely freaking love ghost stories.

Alas, this is not a ghost story.

What is instead is an atmospheric, but slow, slow, utterly snail-like slow, story that shows little development for the first hundred-or-so pages and even then, barely picks up the pacing.

It all starts with our protagonist, William, who shoots a bird with his catapult when he’s eleven years old. This event haunts him for the rest of his life, and offers disastrous consequences later on. A nice idea, and it might’ve worked well, if this book hadn’t been so…you guessed it, slow.

The characters are paper-thin, and even the protagonist lacks personality. He feels like only half a person, something quickly mixed together for entertainment purposes, but only half-finished. The suspense is lacking, both because I couldn’t care about the characters due to their lack of personality, and because the pacing is too slow to build up any real tension.

There’s no fear, no excitement, no horror. Instead, it’s a bland read from start to finish. I hadn’t read the author’s first book, but although it has rave reviews, I will probably skip it based on how boring “Bellman and Black” proved to be.


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