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Publisher's Summary

As a boy, William Bellman commits one small, cruel act: killing a bird with his slingshot. Little does he know the unforeseen and terrible consequences of the deed, which is soon forgotten amidst the riot of boyhood games. By the time he is grown, with a wife and children of his own, William seems to be a man blessed by fortune - until tragedy strikes and the stranger in black comes. Then he starts to wonder if all his happiness is about to be eclipsed. Desperate to save the one precious thing he has left, William enters into a rather strange bargain, with an even stranger partner, to found a decidedly macabre business.

And Bellman & Black is born.

©2013 Diane Setterfield (P)2013 Simon & Schuster

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

A 'Slow Burn' Gothic Tragedy

I loved Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale, and I was eager to devoir her next work. What Setterfield has produced here is, in my opinion, a work less enjoyable to read and yet similarly well worth reading.

Let me explain.

This is not a mystery in any sense, but rather a classic Gothic novel, working out its dark message with all the unflinching inevitability of works such as Nathaniel Hawthorne's The House of Seven Gables. From the moment 11-year-old William Bellman pointlessly kills a young rook with his slingshot, the reader knows things will go badly for him. As he labors to build his adult life -- with loving wife, healthy children, and thriving business -- the reader realizes he will rise to heights only to fall. Not once was I surprised at what befell Bellman. That is not necessarily a criticism. We don't watch the proverbial train wreck because we think the tracks will mysteriously reroute themselves at the last minute; we watch the proverbial train wreck for the edifying and horrifying majesty of the collision.

For that matter, there is something hauntingly reassuring in the idea -- even as it damns all of us -- that actions, however small and thoughtless, have consequences.

Just as, in the proverbial train wreck, watching the long lead-up to the tragedy has a certain oppressive inevitability that frustrates and wears at the nerves, so too does the bulk of Bellman and Black. This is why, despite Setterfield's gorgeous prose, it is not an enjoyable read. Once the reader completes the work and gains a bit of distance, though, it comes into full focus.

Drawing from folklore and legend about rooks, Setterfield stresses thought and memory as the two most terrible costs of Bellman's childhood act of murder: for the last long portion of his life, Bellman thinks only of death as he painstakingly builds Bellman & Black's to be London's premiere mourning emporium; he loses all memory of the happy home he knew with his family and the satisfying work he accomplished at the mill. His daughter, his sole remaining tie to humanity, grows to adulthood without his attention or awareness.

Setterfield expertly twines the narrative around different aspects of the mysterious, wise, and vengeful rook, using the various collective nouns for the birds -- a parish of rooks, a clamor of rooks, an unkindness of rooks, a parliament of rooks, and ultimately a storytelling of rooks -- as both an underlying theme of and a commentary on various sections of the story. The chilling final note of the book, that we short-lived and fallible humans are an entertainment, puts Bellman and his fall in proper context from a rook's perspective.

I appreciate Setterfield's artistry in the organization and symbolic depth of her tale, as well as her admirable restraint in the supernatural aspects of the story. If you're looking to fall in love with charming characters or be caught up breathlessly in an unfolding mystery, look elsewhere. But for a sobering, bleak, and carefully crafted tale about the human condition written in the great Gothic tradition, you need look no further.

Jack Davenport provided a solid narration for this novel.

35 of 36 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
  • JTF
  • Cary, NC USA
  • 01-03-15

An Exquisite Character Study in Perfect Prose

Bellman and Black is a dark, brooding and brilliant study of a man whose life is at first smiled upon and then struck through with utter disaster. From the beginning, he was especially talented and diligent businessman whose whole life eventually revolved around work. A number of reviews have remarked that this book was a let down after her utterly brilliant debut in The Thirteenth Tale. Indeed, some have gone on to say that it seems to be written by a different author. That puzzles me in that this seems to be exactly the kind of book she would write; it is in keeping with her writing style, her focus on characters and dark events overshadowing lives. Admittedly, it doesn't have the narrative drive of The Thirteenth Tale, but it seems to match in almost every other way.

The protagonist, William Bellman, starts life a fairly normal lad with a bit of ambition and talent whose uncle runs the cloth mill, the villages main industry. Through his tutelage, William quickly becomes indispensable at the mill. He goes on to marry, Rose, the perfect girl, and have a grand family. Alas, he always worked a bit too much but not excessively so. That beings to change as he takes over the mill. Alas, tragedy strikes his life and his life is his work. He also now views his life through the lens of a mission; what he believes is a purpose to which he agreed. He made a kind of bargain with, what appears to be, a Grim Reaper with a nod to Norse mythology.

As I am wont to do, I went between the Kindle and Audible audiobook. Jack Davenport (of Pirates of the Caribbean and Coupling fame) is the perfect voice for this book. The tone of his voice, the pacing of the narration and phrasing and emphasize of the words are absolutely spot on. It's one of the best examples of straight narration I've heard. Whilst I recommend reading the book to linger on the language, I equally recommend this book based on the fantastic performance Mr. Davenport provides.

For full review: http://wp.me/p2XCwQ-14e

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • tracy
  • thatcher, AZ, United States
  • 12-03-13

Nevermore

Not everyone will like this one, but I did. I love how Diane Setterfield takes books like Jane Eyer in the Thirteenth Tale and now Edgar Allen Poe's The Raven and constructs a new story around the same premise. If you don't get "The Raven" you probably won't get Bellman and Black. The story is so well done. It is a slow moving story of the life of William Bellman. He spends half of his life in pursuit of riches, but at what price? The Raven's sorrowful words of "never more" are brought to mind over and over again. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It makes me want to enjoy the relationships of those around me and never take a moment for granted of the time I have with those I hold so dear.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars
  • sue
  • Johns Creek, GA, United States
  • 01-18-14

SADLY DISAPPOINTED

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

I was so looking forward to this new release from Diane Setterfield as The Thirteenth Tale was so very good...but sadly this book was boring and predictable. I kept waiting to find out what "the point" was to this tale, but that's the problem, there isn't a point. It was dark, but without an interesting storyline. I kept falling asleep. After The Thirteenth Tale, I just could not make myself give up on the story, but I never felt the satisfaction that I understood what the story was about other then a sad and depressing tale of a man's sad and depressing life.

Would you ever listen to anything by Diane Setterfield again?

Yes, and I am hopeful that she'll thrill us with an intriguing and complex story such as she did with The Thirteenth Tale.

What about Jack Davenport’s performance did you like?

The highlight of the book! His voice was perfect for the character and that alone was the only thing that was done right.

You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

The narrator

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Good book, fabulous performance

Any additional comments?

Jack Davenport has a smooth, deep, silky voice that is perfect for creating an air of menace and foreboding, which is perfect for this story. He does a first-rate job.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

I'd read Diane Setterfield's grocery lists

Would you consider the audio edition of Bellman & Black to be better than the print version?

I think they're comparable. I'm one of those readers who can flip between the two media easily. In this particular case, I would say that between Jack Davenport's voice, and Diane Setterfield's writing, you really can't lose.

What did you like best about this story?

I liked the way Setterfield tied the Rook in. After reading The Thirteenth Tale and now Bellman & Black, I'm confident that her next book will be worth reading. I do also love that she doesn't throw profanity and sex around as if they are the only way to write a good adult novel.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Lisa
  • chicago, IL, USA
  • 12-02-13

Disappointing

I looked forward to reading another book from this author of The Thirteenth Tale. However,I did not enjoy Bellman and Black. Very slow and somewhat predictable story. I frequently had to go back and relisten to parts because my mind would wander.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Diane
  • Louisville, KY, United States
  • 10-28-15

A Disappointment of Rooks

This latest novel of Diane Setterberg starts out promisingly enough – a young boy, somewhat mysteriously, manages to kill a rook with a single shot from a slingshot, an event full of portent for the boy's future life. Sadly what follows is a rather dull tale of a workaholic man who misses the most important parts of life in his quest for success. The occasional appearance of a mysterious dark stranger at various dark periods of his life, does not salvage the story.
The connection to rooks and their behavior seems somewhat forced --these are remarkable creatures but you would be better off listening to "Gifts of the Crow" to appreciate what they have to offer.
While Bellman is not as bad as Scrooge, the underlying story and basic lessons learned have been told to much greater dramatic effect in "A Christmas Carol."

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    1 out of 5 stars

I wanted this to be good

I am a huge fan of the authors first, The 13 Tail. Sadly, this book is slow, boring, it never really goes anywhere… I recommend getting The 13th Tale instead.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • jb
  • Dallas, TX United States
  • 06-11-14

Ghosts and Rooks

I feel like I'm incapable of reviewing the story without blabbing spoilers left and right. And it's really too lovely to spoil. A modern Victorian, maybe? A little dark, a lot mysterious and a hopeful kind of sad.

What I can say with confidence is Jack Davenport's narration is flawless. He never bungles a line reading. The voices are appropriate, even when he goes cross-gender. And the narration passages are like warm molasses running over your ear. And I hope to the Powers That Be that Neil Gaiman snags him soon.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful