THE LEMUR – Benjamin Black

John Glass was a highly respected investigative journalist until he agrees to write a biography of his father-in-law, Wild Bill Mulholland.  “Billuns”, as he is known in the family (and the author should not be forgiven for that twee nickname), is a multi-millionaire who made his money in the communications industry after he had made his reputation as a force to be reckoned with when he was a CIA agent. ( He is not to be confused with Wild Bill Donovan who took the wartime OSS and made it the peacetime CIA). Glass was chosen by Mulholland to write the book despite their relationship or perhaps because of it.  ” ‘I want you to write this….not only because I trust you, but because others do, too.  I don’t want a hagiography.  What I want is the truth’….He had offered the commission, along with a million dollar fee, to his son-in-law because, as he said, he trusted him; trusted him, that is, as Glass well understood, to leave certain overly heavy stones unturned.”

Glass decides he wants to do a real biography of his father-in-law, knowing full well that is not what he had agreed to do, and to that end Glass hires a researcher, Dylan Riley, to dig out all the facts, “…, especially, the inconvenient ones.”  From their first meeting, Glass is uncomfortable with Riley.   The researcher wouldn’t make a commitment to a contract, or agree to an amount of money to be paid.  “He really was an unappetizing person…. He touched the chair Dylan Riley had sat in, and again it made its tiny protest: eek,eek. The young man had left a definite odor on the air, a grayish, rank spoor…. A lemur! That was the creature Dylan Riley resembled.”

A week later, Glass receives a telephone call from Riley.  The researcher claims he has discovered a secret that will rip Mulholland’s reputation and family apart.  He demands that Glass give him  $500,000.00, half of the money he is receiving from Mulholland, an amount that Glass believed was secret.  Glass refuses and Riley ends the call saying, “Right.  The next call you get about this won’t be from me.”

The Lemur is right.  The next call Glass receives about his arrangement with Riley is a call from the police.  The Lemur is dead, shot in the head.  Now Glass has to find out what the Lemur knew before it can become public knowledge.  Glass doesn’t doubt that the information was dangerous enough to be a motive for murder.  He knows Mulholland well enough to be sure of that.

The cover of the book shows a man behind a cloud of smoke.  Glass smokes throughout the book.  He breaks rules and laws when he smokes in places it is forbidden, it isn’t just an addiction, it is an obsession.  As a metaphor it works well.  He hasn’t been seeing what is, only what is convenient for him to keep up his illusion that all is well.  All his relationships have turned to ash because he can’t see what is in front of him.

THE LEMUR was published in the New York Times as a serial.  The first chapter appeared on January 13, 2008 and ran in the Times Magazine as the Sunday Serial.  It ran for fifteen weeks.  As a novella, it is 132 pages, an investment in time of less than two hours.  That I was willing to do but I don’t think I would have continued to follow it from week to week.  There isn’t one character worth knowing.  There are secrets and betrayals and each person is used by another.  I didn’t even care about the secret that cost Riley his life.

When Glass pins the name Lemur on Dylan Riley, he is labeling him as the animal that lives in Madagascar.  The word also has a connection to Roman mythology.  The Lemuria was a feast during which the Romans performed rites to rid their homes of the malevolent and frightening ghosts of the dead.  William Mulholland has some very malevolent and frightening ghosts from his past that threaten everyone in his present.

THE LEMUR was written after CHRISTINE FALLS and THE SILVER SWAN and before ELEGY FOR APRIL.  The characters in the Quirke books are not particularly appealing either but I might have a cup of tea in Bewley’s with them.  Not so anyone in THE LEMUR.

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5 Responses to THE LEMUR – Benjamin Black

  1. I love a couple of Banville’s books as Banville but I can’t warm up to him at all as Benjamin Black. This book – on the face of it — sounds great: a tremendous idea, full of betrayal, conflicting loyalties, family issues, great reversals, murder, and yet you — you personally, I mean — are not engaged. You don’t use one positive adjective.

    I will say that there were some passages in CHRISTINE FALLS that had my palms itching in envy. But when all is said and done, I don’t like the characters and I don’t particularly like the writer, as a person. I’m not entirely certain that one of the problems isn’t that, deep inside, Banville feels like he’s slumming.

    By the way, I’m really enjoying this blog.

  2. Beth says:

    I read somewhere that Benjamin Black jumped on the thriller train because he would make more money than John Banville. There may be some truth in that. I read CHRISTINE FALLS, THE SILVER SWAN ( something of a slog), and ELEGY FOR APRIL. The third book has one character for whom the reader can cheer, Phoebe, Quirke’s niece/daughter.

    I can even like Quirke a bit because he is insatiably nosey, a genetic flaw (although they don’t think so ) among the Irish.

    I read Benjamin Black because one is supposed to do so to maintain some sort of reputation as a literate reader. I don’t think I care enough about that to read another. THE LEMUR is the only book I can think of in which the author doesn’t seem to like any of his characters.

    I am very pleased that you are enjoying the blog. I am enjoying writing it. How long do we have to wait for the next Poke?

  3. janebbooks says:

    Beth, were you curious about this novella? I was…and think B/B wrote it strictly for the money! It’s simply the have not’s versus the have’s and with the Booker under his belt, he can write what he wants. But I was pleased to note that Banville is at Dun Laoghaire at the Mountains to Sea Book Festival. Probably not as Benjamin Black!

    But go the the website for the view of Dublin Bay and the clever Irish quotes from Irish writers that appear momentarily on the upper right side of the dock of books. Go often for the quotes change every visit!

    Love your blog!

    • Beth says:

      Jane, I spent many Sundays in Dun Laoghaire; it seemed Sunday was the only day it didn’t rain.

      My daughter took me up on THE LEMUR review. She reminded me that I said I wouldn’t post negative reviews but I think Mr. Banville and THE LEMUR are a special case. I think Benjamin Black decided mysteries and thrillers are an easy way to make money, while John Banville has to keep his reputation safe from low-brow writing. THE LEMUR reads like something he dashed off while he was waiting for an appointment. Even in the Quirke books he seems to be slumming.

  4. Pingback: AUTHORS A – D ( A Good Place To Start) | MURDER by TYPE

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