Will Bellman is a ten year old outside playing with his friends, Luke and Fred and his cousin Charles. Will has a new slingshot that is the envy of the group. On a dare, Will takes aim with his slingshot and kills a rook. On finding that the bird has died the boys leave but not before hundreds of silent rooks arrive to where the dead bird is. Will is sure he sees a boy all dressed in black near the bird. No one else sees the boy.
Will is the poor relation of Charles whose father owns Bellman Mills. Will's father has abandoned his family leaving them dependent on Bellman's charity. Will's grandfather ("old" Mr. Bellman) hates Will and his mother, believing them responsible for his son abandoning the family. As the boys grow older Charles's father takes Will on at the mill. Will wants to learn all aspects of the business and Charles, who is set to inherit the business, has an interest only in art. Charles heads off to Italy while Will stays at the mill gradually taking on more responsibility. As the boys grow older, each one dies, leaving Will the only survivor of the group who killed the rook.
Will's fortune grows as he takes over and expands the mill. His life is good, he marries and has children. Then the unspeakable happens - his wife becomes ill and dies. His children start to die as the disease spreads among them. With only his daughter Dora left, Will makes a deal with the mysterious Mr. Black. Dora survives but is disfigured, looking something like a newborn bird.
Will and Mr. Black launch Bellman and Black, a business providing funeral apparel and accouterments. Will grow ever more successful but can not find Mr. Black to discuss business plans with. Will begins to wonder just who he has made this deal with. As he becomes more successful, Will starts to loose his soul...and quite possibly his mind.
Diane Setterfield has written a macabre story. Slowly she builds the tension until Will is convinced he is losing his mind and can't continue. Like her previous book, The Thirteenth Tale, Bellman and Black has taken a small act and shown how it can have a huge impact on a life. Well written and just slightly creepy, I recommend this book.
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