Bellman & Black by: Diane Setterfield
325 pages [Hardcover]
After killing a rook in a moment of youthful folly, William Bellman’s adult life begins to take a slowly devastating turn. Rooks never forget. In order to save the only precious person left to him, he makes a deal with a mysterious stranger.
Slightly misleading book jacket description?…check.
Don’t get me wrong, this is a good book, and I’m happy to have it in my collection (even if I did get it from the bargain shelf), but the “decidedly macabre business” that Bellman and Black found isn’t nearly the nefarious sort of business I imagined. I won’t give away what it actually is, but it is a rather regular sort of business. When I read that description I was anticipating shadowy alleyways, murder, and other dastardly deeds. That is not what this story is.
In actuality, this book is an atmospheric kind of story, with something always lurking just out of sight, making you want to read more in hopes of glimpsing it. The story is largely just the tale of William Bellman’s life, how he kills a rook, finds happiness, loses it, and how he copes, partially with a little assistance from the mysterious Mr. Black. If it were only a story of Bellman’s life, it might have been less enjoyable, but the feeling and tone of the story made so many mundane things strangely fascinating.
It also helps that I have a fascination with Victorian/Edwardian department stores, so the details about everything from the mills that made the fabric to the function of the stores themselves was extremely interesting to me. Something about how they did things a hundred or more years ago seems so much more authentic somehow compared to how we do things today.
The theme of rooks and crows throughout the book helped to provide that eerie quality to the story, much like a foggy evening. Fog isn’t inherently dangerous or malicious, but you can’t help but feel like there’s something frightening lurking within it. That last page was awesome. I will forever view crows in a different light.
This story has a kind of poetic simplicity, which after reading complex tales of magic and politics is a nice break. Despite it not being quite what I expected, I found it thoroughly engrossing. Something about it drew me in. Until next time…