Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield Bond Street Books 3 stars Nick Walker Diane Setterfield's debut novel, 2006's The Thirteenth Tale , was a gothic masterpiece of rewarding complexity, with a beautifully embroidered plot and the power to awe. The book - accessible on many levels - took Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, and echoed and warped it so eerily that Setterfield earned plaudits for her deft interpretation. Seven years is a long time between a smash-hit debut and its follow-up. So, is Bellman & Black a worthy successor? Unlike her previous novel, it's no supernova. But it is a dark star and generally meets expectations, although it lacks the twists and turns and brilliant narrative trickery of The Thirteenth Tale . Thankfully though, Setterfield's prose here is as gratifyingly dark and brooding as it is in her debut. Bellman & Black 's protagonist is William Bellman, who, as a boy of 10, made a bet with his chums that he could hit a crow with a stone from his catapult. As his missile arced through the air, Bellman realised in a fraction of a second that he didn't actually want to kill the creature. But he won the bet - unfortunately for the crow, and, as the following chapters reveal, unfortunately for him too. This single incident foreshadows the rest of his life - crows and rooks become recurring and ominous motifs throughout the book. Bellman's adult life starts well. He marries the girl of his dreams, sires a large, loving family, and discovers in himself a natural aptitude for business. But this being a gothic novel, the Grim Reaper is never far away. One by one, people around Bellman die. And at each funeral, he is startled to see a stranger in black, grinning at him knowingly. The first to perish are relatives. Then his children die. Then his wife. Eventually he ends up with just a single loved one: his favourite child, Dora. As the years crawl by, Bellman becomes a kind of doppelgänger of Charles Dickens' most famous creation, Ebenezer Scrooge of A Christmas Carol . Through becoming obsessed with work and the bottom line, Bellman reminds us of what money can and cannot buy. Duly a morality tale emerges, with a fairly simple lesson at its core: compassion and love will always trump business, profit and loss, and financial gain. That's the overarching message of Setterfield's second highly readable gothic tome.