It is generally agreed that William Bellman is a man with prospects. He is pleasing to look at, sings noticeably well in the choir and has an agreeable personality. Over the course of his life, he revolutionises his uncle’s mill and embarks upon several other profitable endeavours. He is determined to the point of obsession and appears destined to succeed in all he does.
His obsessive nature undoes him, however, and his decline is hidden by the rising curve of profits and reputation. Even Bellman doesn’t see it until it’s too late.
Bellman & Black is apparently a ghost story and there is a ghost. The appearance of Black is sporadic. He manifests when Bellman is a child, at the moment the young boy makes a decision he regrets. From that point onward, Black appears only often enough to remind the reader he exists. His impact on Bellman is a lot heavier.
The book does not read much like a ghost story. There is an almost gothic tone to it, but the plot isn’t necessarily creepy or chilling. Perhaps I’ve been inured by one zombie apocalypse too many and require my horror to be more obvious or maybe the premise of Bellman & Black just isn’t compelling.
The descriptions of Bellman’s life, his work at the mill and the detail there, his founding of a clothing empire and all the in depth descriptions of every advance he made in both industries are fascinating. The story of Bellman, himself, less so. It’s a simple one and perhaps best suited to a short story rather than a novel. It’s also sad. Without the spectre haunting him and the reason for it, Bellman’s life would have been tragic enough. What kept me reading to the last page was the hope he’d slip off that downward slope in time to save himself.
I liked this book, but I didn’t love it. I expected something more gripping from Setterfield. It’s been a long wait since her impressive debut, The Thirteenth Tale.
Written for and originally posted at SFCrowsnest.