In my opinion, there are three components to every good book – great writing, an interesting plot and good, strong characters. While a bit unbalanced in this regard, The Lemur (by Benjamin Black) does deliver in all three areas.
The story captured my attention with the opening line ("The researcher was a very tall, very thin young man with a head too small for his frame and an Adam's apple the size of a golf ball.") and held it, to the last page of this short (132 pages) novel.
The researcher mentioned above has been hired by John Glass, the book's narrator and protagonist. Glass, a former journalist, has been commissioned to write a biography of "communications magnate and former CIA agent, Bill Mulholland. The task would be a daunting one for any writer but it is particularly fraught. Glass is married to Mulholland's daughter. And the book has been commissioned by Mulholland himself.
Shortly after that initial meeting, the researcher (the titular "Lemur", so nicknamed by Glass for his resemblance to the primates from Madagascar) is murdered. Glass suspects that this death is linked to the research for the book, in which case there are a whole host of suspects (Mulholland, the CIA, Glass's own wife and even Glass himself).
The murderer reveals her/himself in due course but what really kept me reading was the quality of the writing.
Glass describing his wife:
"Her gaze was as blank as the face of her son's expensive watch, with a myriad unseen, infinitely intricate movements going on behind it."
To me that says heaps about the strained relationship between husband and wife (and is expressed in a way that is much more elegant that I seem to be capable of at the moment).
And on being questioned by the police after the murder:
"It seemed to him that everything in the headachey, noise-assaulted, vertiginous six months he had lived in New York had been leading to just this moment, when he would be sitting here in this policeman's office, dry mouthed and faintly nauseous, with a tingle in his backbone and his veins fizzing. What was happening was at once ordinary and outlandish, inevitable and contingent, as in a dream."
The numerous characters are all vividly described but none has any depth. That they all seem like caricatures is my one small criticism. I am not sure if this was intentional on the part of the author, or a necessary characteristic of such a short book.
Regardless, I did enjoy The Lemur and I would recommend as a quick, entertaining read for those who like mysteries and for people who just enjoy good writing.
Benjamin Black is a pseudonym for writer John Banville and the book was first serialized in the New York Times Magazine, which may explain its brevity.
*This is a review of a book that was sent to me via Library Thing's Early Reviewer Program.