Tag Archives: Diane Setterfield

Once Upon a River

Once Upon A River

Once Upon A River, by Diane Setterfield

by Diane Setterfield

Life on the Thames could be hard, but the people who lived by and along it learned to respect its mercurial nature.

Set in the early 1869s, a time of enlightenment and scientific progress, the old ways of the river folk compete with the new.

For the regulars of the Swan Inn, retelling old stories of the river is a way of life. These stories are often embellished in the retelling but the sense of awe and mystery always remains the same. Little did they suspect that on the wet solstice night they themselves would become part of one of the river’s strangest tales.

As they tell their tales a stranger bursts in, carrying the drowned corpse of a young girl. Hours later the child is very much alive, turning a simple tragedy into something much more intriguing and mysterious. Over the course of the following year, the true identity of the girl (who does not speak) remains in question. Everyone who meets her wants to protect her. Well, almost everyone. She seems to reach into the hearts of those with compassion, but in a small few, she becomes a commodity – a means to a villainous end.

At the heart of this compelling story are two families, each laying claim to the child. s she the baby kidnapped from her bed two years earlier or is she the little girl thought drowned by her distraught mother that very day?

For everyone involved, the child’s presence opens up doors and half-forgotten past events unearth secrets that will ultimately lead to new revelations. 

Almost as mysterious as the girl herself and the links that bind the characters. It is as if some unseen hand has brought them all to this place and time. Through the child they find not only their own salvation but also a reason to live and new hope for the future. 

Dark, Mysterious and beautifully told, Once Upon A River is a brooding mystery that kept me enthralled from the first line to the last. It has as many twists and turns as the river itself, and a comforting continuity that links all the different elements together.

A great book by a natural storyteller. Her stories may be dark, but there is a lightness to the telling and a sense of hope that make them easy to read and to believe.
She is a writer whose books I can thoroughly recommend.


The Thirteenth Tale

The thirteenth taleby Diane Setterfield

When is ghost story not a ghost story? When it’s written by Diane Setterfiled of course! 

The Thirteenth Tale has all the elements of a creepy ghost story – unaccounted sounds, shadowy figures, family secrets and a mysterious death – but it is not a ghost story in the traditional sense. Diane Setterfield’s wonderful debut is a tale of love and self-discovery set against the backdrop of dark secrets.

It is actually two stories. First we have Margaret Lea, a budding biographer more at home with books than people. When she is invited to write the life story of famous writer Vida Winter, at first she is reluctant, but is soon drawn inexplicably to this mysterious woman. As Vida begins to tell her tale, Margaret is drawn into the story, not just of her new employer, but also of the secretive Marsh family and their chilling past.

Uncovering the truth behind the former residents of Angelfield House, Margaret also begins to face her own past and her own fears. She tells Vida that she has no story of her own, but that is not true and when her researches lead her to visit Angelfield House itself, she begins to open herself up to her own loss.

The Thirteenth Tale is well written, well-paced and revealing book. I was drawn into the stories of these two families from the very first page. The style is easy but at the same time relentless. As the secrets begin to unravel I became more and more gripped by the interweaving of the two stories.

And just when I thought I had it all figured out, events take an unexpected turn and I found myself even more intrigued as the story raced to its unexpected, yet inevitable conclusion.

Diane Setterfield is a great mystery writer. Her second book “Bellman & Black” (which I read previously) is another great example of her ability to drawn the reader into a chilling world of the unknown.

The BBC have produced a drama based on the book which I really must see. 

Bellman & Black

by Diane Setterfield

Bellman and Black“Bellman & Black” is a dark tale of tragedy, success, mystery and rooks. It follows the life of William Bellman, starting with his killing of a rook as a ten-year-old. A seemingly insignificant event that comes to have greater meaning as he gets older.

In his late teens young William is taken under the wing of his uncle Paul who gives him a job at the family textiles mill. Everything goes well, with William quickly becoming an integral and increasingly important part of the Bellman empire. But tragedy is never very far away, and a series of tragic and, in some cases, unexplained deaths conspire to leave William running the family business.

Just when he feels secure, with the mill more successful than ever and his wife and children content in their lives, the ultimate tragedy brings William to despair. It is then that a chance meeting with a stranger sets William on a new course, giving him something to funnel his energies into.

But what has all this got to do with the rooks?

“Bellman & Black” is an unusual book. It is not a ghost story, although it does have some of the dark mystery that you would associate with the genre. It is compelling, well written and full of surprises. I must say I was a little disappointed with the way it ended as I felt there was something more that could have been told about William’s later years, but this does not alter the fact that I found it a riveting read, one I could not put down and enjoyed to the very last page. 

A really intriguing and entertaining book.