Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Perfect Shot

A group of boys go into the woods.  One of them has a slingshot that he made himself.  The boys all think the slingshot is pretty great, but they doubt the boy, Will, when he claims to be able to hit a rook on a branch far away.  Somehow, he finds the perfect trajectory, and the bird falls.  The boys are thrilled!  While they don't know it, William Bellman's life has been changed forever.  And so begins Bellman and Black by Diane Setterfield.

From that time on, death follows William everywhere.  His family members, his friends, his children, everyone he loves seems to be dying.  For some reason, the same person appears at all of their funerals.  William doesn't know who this stranger is, but he begins referring to him as "Black".  In a fit of grief induced madness, William decides to make a deal with Black, to try to keep his last daughter alive.  The problem is that once the deal is made, William is not quite sure what he agreed to do.

William spends the rest of his life trying to live up to his end of the commitment.  He creates a funeral department store, selling everything that a mourner could need.  He makes a fortune, but carefully saves a fair share for Black.  It is only when business declines that Bellman recognizes a familiar trajectory from his past.

I went into this one expecting a ghost story.  Perhaps this is because the full title is Bellman and Black:  A Ghost Story.  There wasn't anything in the story that sent tingles down my neck or made me wonder what was lurking behind my curtains late at night.  The ghost here (if there was one) was more like the Ghost of Christmas Past than like the ghost in The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters.  It's funny though, because when I reviewed Setterfield's last book, the best seller, Thirteenth Tale, I cautioned my readers that although it too was billed as a ghost story, it really wasn't.

What Bellman and Black is like, unexpectedly, is World Without End by Ken Follett.  Both stories begin with children in the woods being part of something that shapes the rest of their lives.  They both involve families struck down by the plague, a daughter who miraculously survives, and a revolutionary building project, with Merthin in World building a bridge and William in Bellman building his department store.  Merthin and William share the same business acumen, attention to detail and foresight.  But where the bad guy in World is an evil person in a position of  authority, that role in Bellman is played by Black.  The question of whether Black is evil or even if he is a person, is shimmering at the edge of every page.  If you liked World, you will tear through Bellman, which is only 336 pages, compared to World's 1,024.

There is more that I want to say about Bellman and Black, but I don't want to ruin it for you, so I will post those comments on my Spoilers Page, for you to read after reading the novel.  And you should read the novel.  It's certainly a good book, even if it isn't scary.  Bellman and Black will be released on November 5, 2013.

Full Disclosure:  I was offered and claimed a free electronic copy of this book from Net Galley.  No promises were made, no payments were received.

Next IRR:  I've noticed that the last five Industry Requested Reviews that I have done were for books by well known if not best selling authors.  While I do like doing those, I'm feeling like I'm missing out on the "unknowns" out there.  So, for next month, I have requested two books from lesser known authors, Melt:  The Art of Macaroni and Cheese by Stephanie Stiavetti, Garrett McCord and Michael Ruhlman, and Upload by Michael McClelland.  If I get them both, I'll review them both!  Stay tuned.

Next Up on Paper:  Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Still Listening to:  In the Woods by Tana French

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