Set in the past in England, Bellman and Black opens with young William Bellman launching the perfect slingshot volley - unexpectedly hitting it's target - a young rook. (a member of the crow family) That seemingly innocuous event forever marks young William's life. It isn't even an event he remembers. But he is afraid of birds.....
Initially seen as a bit of a ne'er do well, young William finds his place in the world, successfully moving into a family business, marrying and having a family. But misfortune enters William's life as friends and family members die. And at each funeral William sees a mysterious man in black. A man with whom he eventually partners with in a new venture - a funeral emporium. Bellman and Black.
I was very much looking forward the this second novel. But, I found myself somewhat disappointed. The story is slow to evolve, with much detail included in building both time and place. I did find the historical details included interesting, but I wanted more. I wanted something to happen. The man in black is mysterious, but there isn't enough of a build-up to the final reveal for me to be even remotely chilled.
The role of rooks in history, myth and lore is discussed at the beginning of many chapters. Paying attention to that precluded any surprises that came with the final chapters.
British cover versions of this book have added the sub-title of "A Ghost Story". This was not included on the North American cover. And wisely. While it's eerie, it doesn't cross into ghost territory in my opinion. Instead I found myself thinking of Poe's The Raven and Hitchcock's The Birds. (But not near that level of fright) See the publisher's trailer below for how they chose to market the book.
Good, but not great for this reader. I found I was too easily able to put the book down. However, Setterfield's prose are excellent - I would pick up the next book by this author. Read an excerpt of Bellman and Black.