The Bell Witch: John F.D. Taff
Reviewed By Steve Stred
Much like most of you reading this review, growing up I was always fascinated and drawn to the true stories of ghosts, possessions, hauntings and the like. Whether you believe in it being real or not, there’s no disputing that ‘something’ does happen to these people in these situations.
What makes some stories stand out even more for me are when renowned historical figures state that they experienced something while visiting these people.
Case in point: The Bell Witch. The Bell Witch is often referred to as ‘America’s Witch’ because of it happening in Tennessee and relatively recently – 1817. Add in that Andrew Jackson himself says he witnessed the witch and from there the story grew. Even to this day The Bell Witch, that entity that terrorized the Bell Family sends shivers down peoples spines. You can even go visit the cave and old farmstead if you really want to experience some American haunting history.
Which led me to this book.
What I liked: I’ve not read enough Taff, but this one’s been on my radar for some time. When it finally arrived at the top of my TBR, I tore through it. Taff does something special here by not keeping the witch in the shadows. We open with a slow build of family life until a fateful visit to the cave brings forth a spirit that has a purpose. That purpose is what makes this book really work. The witch becomes a character that offers terror and kindness, often within the same paragraph. It was a marvellous choice by John to make the reader have to question why they both loathed and loved the witch.
The family dynamic is spot on and as the story progresses we get to see just how the presence of the spirit weighs on each member. I also really loved the time period accuracy of God and the decisions made for a persons place with God and forgiveness. It created a philosophical layer that I wasn’t expecting.
Taff weaved a gem of a story, with multiple storylines playing out but all of them inherently tied to how and why the witch was tormenting the Bell family.
What I didn’t like: I found some of the story slowed near the 75% mark as the family learns the purpose of the witch and we need to go through each member to see how they react to it. It’s minor and necessary, but when you’re waiting for all hell to break loose, it was a bit of a “foot off the gas pedal” section.
Why you should buy this: Taff is a fantastic writer and while he states explicitly this is a piece of fiction and not historically accurate, once done you’ll want to do a deep dive on the lore around this. This was really well done, with some truly frightening moments, elevated by the underlying knowledge that this really happened. Or did it…
The Bell Witch
SOMETIMES THE SCARIEST TALES ARE TRUE
Inspired by actual events.
It’s 1817, and Tennessee is on the western frontier as America expands into the unknown. In idyllic Adams County, home of the Bell family, there exists a collection of tight-knit rural communities with deeply held beliefs. And even more deeply buried secrets.
Jack and Lucy Bell operate a prosperous family farm northwest of Nashville where life with their many children is peaceful. Simple country life. That is until those secrets take on a life of their own and refuse to remain unspoken.
Much has been written about the legend of the Bell Witch of Tennessee, but the details of the Bell family’s terrifying experience with the supernatural have never been told in quite the way that Bram Stoker Award-nominated horror author John F.D. Taff has conceived.
In his novel, for the first time, the Witch has her own say. And what she reveals about the incident and the dark motivations behind her appearance reaches way beyond a traditional haunting. Forget what you’ve read about this wholly American legend. What you believe you know about the mysterious occurrences on the Bell farm are wrong. Uncover the long-hidden reality that’s far more horrifying than any ghost story you’ve ever heard.
Steve Stred is the author of a number of novels, novellas and collections. He has appeared in anthologies with some of Horror’s heaviest hitters.
He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada with his wife, son and their dog OJ.
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