Rook's Revenge

Bellman & Black - Diane Setterfield The Thirteenth Tale - Diane Setterfield

William Bellman is good at everything he sets his mind to; too good, in some cases. For when William is just 10 years old, he boasts to his buddies that he can hit a rook that perches an impossible distance away with his slingshot, and, much to everyone’s surprise, he the rook falls dead, struck by a rock from his slingshot. As soon as this symbol of death topples to the ground, the boys are uneasy and quickly attempt to leave the rook behind. It’s not so easy to avoid their guilt, though.


It seems, as William grows up, that the only way he’s unlucky is by birth. His uncle’s family, which runs the Bellman Textile Mill doesn’t recognize him as an heir, and has chosen instead his cousin Charlie, who takes no interest in the business. His uncle, Paul, recognizes in him a hard worker who intuitively understands how to make improvements, and so William is brought to work as Paul’s assistant and loves every minute. His fortunes quickly increase and he starts a family. Everything, it seems, has been set to rights, and William improves the station of everyone he knows by improving efficiency and profits at the mill and employing his childhood friends whenever possible.


And then death visits William Bellman’s perfect world. His mother falls ill and never recovers. Rooks start turning up more frequently, their wings battering his dreams. One by one, his childhood friends are found dead, and then his family is taken from him. William begins seeing a dark stranger at each hastily attended funeral, and becomes obsessed with death. This obsession becomes his most profitable business venture yet: a mourning emporium called Bellman & Black. Will these profits and his driven personality protect him from what he fears most? The only way to know is to read the book.


Bellman & Black’s strength lies in the detail put into the descriptions of the mill and the mourning emporium businesses. Whether we are to believe that Bellman’s childhood mistake of killing the rook is what sets the story’s events in motion, or whether Bellman’s obsession at first with rooks and later with a shadowy figure he identifies as Mr. Black is an indication of his psychological deterioration is unclear in the story. While Bellman & Black is advertised as a ghost story, those expecting clear hauntings or thriller movie style scares will be disappointed here. It strikes me that the worst demons William Bellman fights are those in his mind.