I read Heidi Barnes’ first book (and the first in what is supposed to be The Bellman Trilogy) back in 2016 and…I didn’t like it. (You can read my review here.) So when I was offered a copy of The Bellman’s Secret by Rare Bird Books, I’ll admit I wasn’t super excited. I decided to read the sequel though because a) I figured it would also be a short and easy read and b) I was curious to see how Stan might change or develop in the second book.
The answer to a) is Yes! At 237 pages, The Bellman’s Secret did not take long to read at all. And the answer to b)?
The novel picks up approximately a year after The Bellman finished. While you don’t really have to have read the first book to read this one, it definitely is intended to read in order. Barnes doesn’t spend much time reminding us of the characters, for which I was grateful. Stan has returned to The Mayfair to work another summer as a bellman. He’s spent a year working at a hotel in Boston and continuing his relationship with Mindy, a waitress at The Mayfair. He’s excited to be back and looking forward to the summer but things don’t start out the way he hoped. Mindy seems upset at him, the other bellman who has been hired is a jerk, and there’s a weird humming noise keeping everyone awake at night.
Stan’s relationship with Mindy is more central to the plot this time except that that relationship is almost non-existent. It was hard to believe that they were even dating because we see so little of them together on the page. I can’t recall that there was even a single scene where they were simply spending time and enjoying each other. Mindy doesn’t seem to like Stan at all (which I can kind of sympathize with) but she’s also extremely unlikeable for most of the book and the sparkling girl of the first novel has disappeared.
The hook of the story is, I believe, supposed to be the diverse characters who visit The Mayfair. In the first book I found the way Stan (our first person narrator) viewed and referred to other characters to be often cruel and somewhat offensive. This time around, he seems more relaxed and less judgemental. The guests still seem to be stereotypes more than fleshed out characters. There are the swinging couples, the eccentric old lady, the high-flying young executive. Mr. Mac, an older fellow who spends all season at the hotel, is the most fully rendered and I would have been happy to have more time spent on him and his story. Stan was at his most sympathetic when he was talking about Mr. Mac. There were a couple of times in the book where characters behaved in confusing ways. We had a Muslim character observing Ramadan but drinking copious amounts of alcohol and a Jewish rabbi chowing down on lobster. I couldn’t tell if Barnes was trying to make a statement about how people break the rules on holiday or if she didn’t realize these actions were strictly forbidden.
Stan himself doesn’t exactly go through a lot of growth in this novel. He wants to advance in the hotel industry but doesn’t do much of that in the course of the book. It’s hard to say if he learns anything from his relationship with Mindy. Maybe he learns a little from Mr. Mac and their conversations.
If you read and enjoyed The Bellman, then you will definitely enjoy this sequel. If, like me, you were left feeling frustrated with Stan, this addition to his story won’t necessarily change your feelings.