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The Bell Witch: An American Haunting Hardcover – March, 1997

3.9 out of 5 stars 63 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Kirkus Reviews

Ever-intelligent horror novelist Monahan (The Blood of the Covenant, 1995, etc.) retells a true story--true as far as the participants knew--about a poltergeist. The book purports to be a recently discovered manuscript written by Richard Powell, an eyewitness of the Bell Witch haunting in Robertson County, Tennessee, 181721. Monahan says that his first skeptical reading of the manuscript led him to six books confirming the authenticity of the events. Indeed, Richard Powell, the long-dead narrator, is himself a skeptic who seems to know all the devices of poltergeists, and in particular how poltergeist activity within a home reflects a family's psychic torment. Poltergeists (racket-makers) do not attack from without but rather are a spiritual pustule erupting from within a deeply troubled household. The poltergeist in this case seemed set on doing away with John Bell, the head of the family, while at the same time gradually evolving a rather homey tie with the other family members that lasted for three years and was witnessed by many. The spirit first showed up as something invisible gnawing nightly on bedposts, raining rocks on the roof, ripping covers off beds, and repeatedly slapping 12-year-old Betsy Bell and pulling her across the floor by her hair. At times the spirit allowed itself to be touched; it gathered news from afar for the family; lectured on theology; sang sweetly in four different voices; and rescued children in trouble. For three years, the spirit joked, lectured, ran off frauds and charlatans, and even nursed Bell's sick wife, producing nuts and berries for the invalid out of thin air. Even so, it afflicted the father with palsy, tics, and neuralgia, and at last watched him die. What produced the poltergeist? It's unfair to reveal here Monahan's reasonable yet supernatural answer. More artful, if less exciting, than Monahan's brainy bloodsucker operas--but all immensely satisfying. -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

Review

America's greatest ghost story --Dennis William Hauck, Haunted Places

Too compelling to put down --Fangoria --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; 1st. ed edition (March 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 031215061X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312150617
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.3 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #440,694 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book probably intends to confuse you a little- it did me- by purporting to be a newly discovered diary of a known eyewitness to events in the historically-documented "Bell Witch" case. In fact, it's a very good novel. Monahan takes the basic facts (or claims) that we have and fleshes them out artfully, with a narrator, dialogue, and a point of view that work beautifully well. The gripping story takes the horror and suspense genres in a unique direction, and lives up to the incredible source material. A small complaint: he tries to wrap things in a too-neat 1990s package for us at the end- the only false note he strikes here.
The book left me very interested in this case, and my interest increased recently when I discovered close family ties to many of the people depicted here, including Elias and Sugg Fort.
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Format: Paperback
This novel describes most of the significant Bell Witch facts as they have come to stand in American history/legend. The author chose the device of an unknown manuscript that gave inside information on the events of nearly 200 years ago, and took on the stance that this was as much a mystery (a murder mystery, no less) as it was a series of possible supernatural events. I didn't find this novel scary, but I don't know if I was supposed to. My own view is that this notorious case of a haunting witnessed by hundreds (including Andrew Jackson, if legend is correct) contains some unexplained elements but is also one that has grown in the telling over the decades. No one theory covers all elements here but the one that comes closest involves knowing participation by some of the family involved in the supposed poltergeist phenomena that surrounded them. Whatever else this matter was, it became deadly serious and the patriarch of the family did wind up dead, just as the spirit of the "witch" prophesied. More disturbing, true to her word, the witch did appear and she laughed at him at his funeral, as his casket was being lowered into the grave. I have read quite a bit about this disturbing folk history and have heard everything advocated from demonic presences to straightforward trickery. One recent claim was that the girl at the heart of the case was being molested by her father, that the pranks she claimed were a haunting were a cry for help, and that she got her revenge by poisoning her father to death. That may well be. Whatever the explanations are, the Bell Witch of Tennessee certainly deserves to be kept alive in memory, and it makes for a titillating study of the unexplained.
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Format: Paperback
This is one of the few books to tackle the story of the Bell Witch in narritive form. I think Brent Monahan does a good job of depicting the horror that the Bell family must have faced when under the assault of the "witch". The ending twist I found interesting and thought provoking and tied into the novel quite well. It does not follow the historical ending of the Bell Witch haunting (the witch actually came back to visit John Bell Jr. and had nothing more to do with Betsy Bell) but hey....this was written as a story, and the ending provides an "Ah-ha" moment to the end of the novel. I can't wait to see the movie. Overall a good book. I would reccomend it to anyone interested in the Bell Witch haunting.
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Format: Paperback
The long story short here is simply that Monahan took a great American ghost story and completely trashed it with his twisted element of incest.

As one who is very familiar with the Bell Witch legend, I can assure the potential reader that there has never been even the slightest shred of evidence to suggest an incestuous relationship between John Bell and his daughter, nor any other member of the family.

Monahan not only ruins an iconic piece of early Americana in this novel, he also manages to brutally libel the memory of John Bell.

Thankfully, there are plenty of books and other materials available on the Bell Witch which offer a more accurate view of the events surrounding the Bell family. This bit of drivel is most certainly not one of them.

I recommend you not waste your time.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Don't make this the only read you do concerning the"Bell Witch". It may have made for a good movie, but The facts are, strange unexplainable things did happen. They were documented. This, in my opinion is not what was behind the happenings.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is hard to put down. I read it in 2 days. However, I believe some accounts reported in this book are true & others are false. I am very leery about this manuscript that was found. Also, I am not sure that I believe the ending & how the "witch" came to be. The Bell family are my relatives. I have heard stories all my life about the witch. Never have I heard that the witch came to be the way the author describes. I believe most of this book is fiction.
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By A Customer on August 30, 2000
Format: Paperback
In "THE BELL WITCH," the author asks us to believe that he has recently discovered a manuscript which documents the only case in US history when a ghost actually kills a man. At the same time, the author also admits that his story is a "faction," much like "THE EXORCIST." Whether or not some of the events really happened is up to the reader to decide.
I picked up "THE BELL WITCH" after the recent success of "THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT" and was hoping to find something as equally as entertaining but this time as non-fiction. Instead, what I read was a ghost story that was more amusing at times than frightening, more predictable than surprising and left me feeling like less of a believer than intended. The discovered "manuscript," written by the local school teacher, documents the haunting of the Bell family in too much detail to actually make the reader believe that this was a daily journal. This book is only one person's account of the poltergeist and the author/editor, Brent Monahan, tries too early in his preface to convince us that everything that lies within is all true. The only real mystery here is trying to decide what events may have truly happened.
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