The Lemur by Benjamin Black is a tidy, atmospheric novel that delivers on a tense and satisfying who-done-it plot.
The story follows John Glass, an Irish journalist who is living a comfortable physical life in New York. But Glass isn’t really a journalist anymore. He’s essentially a kept man, living in a loveless marriage and embarking on the authorized biography of his father-in-law.
Though his surroundings are plush, his emotional and spiritual life are far from it. Glass battles self-loathing for the biography he’s been commissioned to write, and seems to be in a state of spiritual ennui.
Enter Dylan Riley, a researcher Glass is contemplating hiring. He looks, thinks Glass, like a lemur. But Riley isn’t as innocuous as the furry creatures you see at the zoo. No, Riley has already done a good deal of research and finds some dirt. It’s easy to see why Black choose the lemur.
The term “lemur” is derived from the Latin word lemures, meaning “spirits of the night” or “haunter”.
The next thing Glass knows, he’s being blackmailed by Riley for five-hundred thousand dollars, half of what Glass is being paid for the biography. Before Glass can get worked up about it Riley is murdered – shot through the eye. But relief turns to suspicion and fear as Glass realizes the blackmail and murder can’t be a coincidence. It’s someone he knows.
Black sets up the plot with a sure and quick hand. He does so without you really noticing and at the same time creates a superb mood for the novel. That’s where The Lemur really excels. It oozes atmosphere and emotion. Not through the characters but in the description of places and events.
You’re not really connecting with any of the characters, but they all make you feel things. The sense of boredom and repression made me fidget. The panic Glass has is palpable, reminding me of times when I felt close to being caught bluffing at poker. The guarded but intricate conversations Glass has with a fellow writer bring back memories of strong but short acquaintances you never forget.
Black paints these great portraits, allowing readers to connect using their own experiences to fill in the shadows and edges. Pair this moody introspection with a screw-tightening page-turning plot and you have a fine novel. Sure, it lacks the emotional depth that would make it great, but it succeeds on a number of levels.
Read The Lemur by Benjamin Black on a holiday winter weekend and you won’t be disappointed.