The Lemur

The Lemur

by Benjamin Black

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429926676
Publisher: Picador
Publication date: 06/24/2008
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 144
Sales rank: 1,090,620
File size: 382 KB

About the Author

Benjamin Black is the pen name of John Banville, who was born in Wexford, Ireland, in 1945. His novels have won numerous awards, mostly recently the Man Booker Prize in 2005 for The Sea. Under the name Benjamin Black he is also the author of Christine Falls and The Silver Swan. He lives in Dublin.

Benjamin Black is the pen name of the Man Booker Prize-winning novelist John Banville. The author of the bestselling and critically acclaimed series of Quirke novels—as well as The Black-Eyed Blonde, a Philip Marlowe novel—he lives in Dublin.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


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. He wore rimless spectacles the lenses of which were almost invisible, the shine of the glass giving an extra luster to his large, round, slightly bulging black eyes. A spur of blond hair sprouted from his chin, and his brow, high and domed, was pitted with acne scars. His hands were slender and pearly- pale, with long, tapering fingers—a girl’s hands, or at least the hands a girl should have. Even though he was sitting down, the crotch of his baggy jeans sagged halfway to his knees. His none too clean T-shirt bore the legend Life Sucks and Then You Die. He looked about seventeen but must be, John Glass guessed, in his late twenties, at least. With that long neck and little head and those big, shiny eyes, he bore a strong resemblance to one of the more exotic rodents, though for the moment Glass could not think which one.

His name was Dylan Riley. Of course, Glass thought, he would be a Dylan.

“So,” Riley said, “you’re married to Big Bill’s daughter.”

He was lounging in a black- leather swivel chair in Glass’s borrowed office on the north- facing side of Mulholland Tower. Behind him, through a wall of plate glass, gray Manhattan sulked steamily under a drifting pall of April rain.

“Does that seem funny to you?” Glass inquired. He had an instinctive dislike of people who wore T-shirts with smart things written on them.

Dylan Riley snickered. “Not funny, no. Surprising. I wouldn’t have picked you as one of Big Bill’s people.”

Glass decided to let that go. He had begun to breathe heavily through his nostrils, hisss-hiss, hisss- hiss, always a warning sign.

“Mister Mulholland,” Glass said heavily, “is eager that I have all the facts, and that I have them the right way round.”

Riley smiled his goofy smile and swiveled the chair first to one side and then the other, nodding happily. “All the facts,” he said, “sure.” He seemed to be enjoying himself.

“Yes,” Glass said with stony emphasis, “all the facts. That’s why I’m hiring you.”

In one corner of the office there was a big square metal desk, and Glass went now and sat down carefully behind it. He felt less panicstricken sitting down. The office was on the thirty- ninth floor. It was absurd to be expected to conduct business—to do anything—at such a height. On his first day there he had edged up to the plate-glass wall and peered down to see, a couple of floors below, fluffy white clouds that looked like soft icebergs sailing sedately across a sub-merged city. Now he put his hands .at on the desk before him as if it were a raft he was trying to hold steady. He very much needed a cigarette.

Dylan Riley had turned the chair around to face the desk. Glass was sure the young man could sense how dizzy and sick he felt, perched up here in this crystal-and-steel eyrie.

“Anyway,” Glass said, moving his right hand in a wide arc across the desktop as if to sweep the subject aside; the gesture made him think of footage of Richard Nixon, sweating on the evening news all those years ago, insisting he was not a crook. The studios were so harshly lit in those days of paranoia and recrimination they had made pretty well everyone look like a villain in an old Eastmancolor movie. “I should tell you,” Glass said, “that Mr. Mulholland will give you no assistance. And I don’t want you to approach him. Don’t call, don’t write. Understand?”

Riley smirked and bit his lower lip, which made him look all the more like—what was it? A squirrel? No. Close, but no. “You haven’t told him,” Riley said, “have you. About me, I mean.”

Glass ignored that. “I’m not asking you to be a muckraker,” he said. “I don’t expect Mr. Mulholland to have guilty secrets. He was an undercover agent, but he’s not a crook, in case you think I think he is.”

“No,” Riley said, “he’s your father- in- law.”

Glass was breathing heavily again. “That’s something I’d like you to forget about,” he said, “when you come to do your researches.” He sat back on his chair and studied the young man. “How will you go about it—researching, I mean?”

Riley laced his long pale fingers over his concave stomach and this time rocked himself gently backward and forward in the swivel chair, making the ball- and-socket mechanism underneath the seat squeal tinily, eek, eek.

“Well,” Riley said with a smirk, “let’s say I go way beyond Wikipedia.”

“But you’ll use . . . computers, and so on?” Glass did not possess even a cell phone.

“Oh, yes, computers,” Riley said, making his big eyes bigger still, mocking the older man, “all sorts of wizard gadgets, don’t you know.”

Glass wondered if that was supposed to be a British accent. Did Riley think he was English? Well, let him.

He imagined lighting up: the match flaring, the lovely tang of sulphur, and then the harsh smoke searing his throat.

“I want to ask you something,” Riley said, thrusting his pinhead forward on its tall stalk of neck. “Why did you agree to it?”


“To write Big Bill’s biography.”

“I don’t think that’s any of your business,” Glass said sharply. He looked out at the misty rain. He had moved permanently from Dublin to New York six months previously, he had an apartment on Central Park West and a house on Long Island—or at least his wife had—yet he had still not got used to what he thought of as the New York Jeer.

The fellow on the street corner selling you a hot dog would say, “Thanks, bud,” and manage to make it sound merrily derisive. How did they keep it going, this endless, amused, argumentative squaring up to each other and everyone else?

“Tell me,” he said, “what you know about Mr. Mulholland.”

“For free?” Riley grinned again, then leaned back and looked at the ceiling, fingering the tuft of hair on his chin. “William ‘Big Bill’ Mulholland. South Boston Irish, second generation. Father ran off when wee Willie was a kid, mother took in laundry, scrubbed floors.In school William got straight As, impressed the priests, was an altar boy, the usual. Tough, though—any pedophile cleric coming near Bill Mulholland would likely have lost his balls. Put himself through Boston College. Engineering. At college was recruited into the CIA, became a working operative in the late forties. Electronic surveillance was his specialty. Korea, Latin America, Europe, Vietnam. Then he had a run- in with James Jesus Angleton over Angleton’s obsessive distrust of the French—Big Bill was posted to the Company’s Paris bureau at the time. In those days one did not incur the displeasure”—again that hopeless attempt at a British accent—“of James Jesus without getting cut off at the knees, which is what would have happened to Bill Mulholland if he hadn’t got out before Angleton could give him the shove, or worse. That was the late sixties.”

He pushed himself up out of the chair, unwinding himself like a fakir’s rope, and shambled to the glass wall and stood looking out, his hands thrust into the back pockets of his jeans. He went on: “After he left the Company, Big Bill got into the then-blossoming communications business, where he put his training as a spook to good use when he set up Mulholland Cable and right away began to make shitloads of money. It wasn’t until twenty years later that he had to bring in his protégé Charlie Varriker to save the firm from going bust.” He paused, and without turning said: “You’ll know about Big Bill’s matrimonial adventures, I guess? In 1949 he married the world’s most famous redhead, Vanessa Lane, Hollywood actress, if that’s the word, and in 1949 the marriage was duly dissolved”—now he grinned over his shoulder at Glass—“ain’t love just screwy?”

He went back to contemplating the misted city and was silent for a moment, thinking. “You know,” he said, “he’s such a CIA cliché I wonder if the CIA didn’t invent him. Look at his next marriage, in ’58, to Claire Thorpington Eliot, of the Boston Eliots—that was some step up the social ladder for Billy the Kid from Brewster Street. He had, as you will know, one child only, a daughter, Louise, by the second Mrs. Mulholland. Miz Claire, as this grand lady was called, died in a hunting accident—balking horse, broken neck—in April 1961, on the eve, as bloody- minded Fate would have it, of the invasion of the Playa Girón, otherwise known as the Bay of Pigs, a venture in which Big Bill was sunk up to his neck. The grieving widower returned from the shores of Florida to find the Eliots already moving his things, including his two- year- old daughter, out of the grand old family mansion in Back Bay.”

He turned and walked back and slumped down in the chair and again turned his eyes to the ceiling. “Next thing,” he said, “Big Bill was married a third time, to Nancy Harrison, writer, journalist, and Martha Gellhorn–look- alike, and living with her on a fine estate in County Somewhere on the west coast of Ireland, not an Oscar statuette’s throw from the home of his old friend and drinking buddy John Huston.Grand days, by all accounts, but bound to end, like all such. Blond Nancy couldn’t take the endless rain and the low- browed natives and packed up her Remington and hightailed it for sunnier climes—Ibiza, Clifford Irving, Orson Welles, all that.” He stopped, and lowered his glossy gaze from the ceiling and fixed on Glass. “You want more, I got more. And I haven’t even looked into the crystal ball of my laptop yet.”

“What did you do,” Glass said, “rehearse this stuff before you came up here?”

A sharp something came into the young man’s look, a resentful edge. “I have a photographic memory.”

“Useful, in your trade,” Glass said.


He was, Glass saw, sulking. His professional honor had been questioned. It was good to know where he was vulnerable.

Glass rose, a finger braced against the desktop for balance, and launched himself cautiously out into the room. At each step that he took he felt he was about to fall over, and had the impression that he was yawing sideways irresistibly in the direction of the glass wall and the gulp-inducing nothingness beyond. Would he ever become accustomed to this cloud- capped tower?

“I can see,” he said, “I’ve picked the right person. Because what I want is detail—the kind of thing I’m not going to have the time to find for myself, or the inclination, frankly.”

“No,” Riley said from the leather depths of his chair, still sounding surly, “detail was never your strong point, was it?”

What struck Glass was not so much the implied insult as the tense in which it was couched. Was this how everyone would see it, that by agreeing to write his father-in- law’s biography he had renounced his calling as a journalist? If so, they would be wrong, though once again it was a matter of tense. For he had already given up journalism, before ever Big Bill had approached him with an offer it would have been foolish to refuse. His reports on Northern Ireland during the Troubles, on the massacre in Tiananmen Square, on the Rwandan genocide, on the Intifada, on that bloody Saturday afternoon in Srebrenica, not so much reports as extended and passionately fashioned jeremiads—there would be no more of them. Something had ceased in him, a light had been extinguished, he did not know why. It was simply that: he had burned out. An old story. He was a walking cliché. “I want you to write this thing, son,” Big Bill had said to him, laying a hand on his shoulder, “not only because I trust you, but because others do, too. I don’t want a hagiography—I don’t merit one, I’m no saint. What I want is the truth.” And Glass had thought: Ah, the truth.

“It’s not going to be easy for you,” he said now to the young man lounging in the shell- shaped chair.

“How’s that?”

“I don’t want Mr. Mulholland to come to hear of you and what you’re doing. You understand?”

He turned—too quickly, making his head spin—and gave Dylan Riley what he hoped was a hard look. But Riley was gazing at the ceiling again, gnawing on the nail of his left little finger, and might not have been listening.

“That’s my job,” Riley said, “to be discreet. Anyway, you’d be surprised how much information—detail, as you say—is on record, if you know where to look for it.”

Glass suddenly wanted to be rid of the fellow. “Have you a standard contract?” he asked brusquely.

“A contract? I don’t do contracts.” Riley smiled slyly. “I trust you.”

“Oh, yes? I didn’t think you’d trust anyone, given the nature of your work.”

Riley stood up from the chair and adjusted the crotch of his sagging jeans with scooping gestures of both hands. He really was an unappetizing person. “‘The nature of my work’?” he said. “I’m a researcher, Mr. Glass. That’s all.”

“Yes, but you find things out, and surely sometimes the things you find out are not to the taste of your employers, never mind the people they are having researched.”

Riley gave him a long, piercing look, putting his head on one side and narrowing his eyes. “You said Big Bill has no guilty secrets.”

“I said I expect none.”

“I’m here to tell you, everybody has secrets, mostly guilty ones.”

Glass turned toward the door, drawing the young man with him. “You’ll get to work straightaway,” he said, a statement not a question. “When can I expect to hear from you?”

“I’ve got to get my head around this, get or organized, decide priorities. Then we’ll talk again.” By now Glass had the door open. The much used air in the corridor smelled faintly of burnt rubber. “I’ve got to get my head around you, too,” Riley said, with a suddenly bitter laugh. “I used to read you, you know, in the Guardian, in Rolling Stone, the New York Review. And now you’re writing Big Bill Mulholland’s life story.” He inflated his cheeks and released the air in them with a tiny, plosive sound. “Wow,” he said, and turned away.

Glass shut the door and walked back to his desk, and when he reached it, as if at a signal, the telephone rang. “This is Security, Mr. Glass. Your wife is here.”

For a moment Glass said nothing. 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. Yes, of course. A lemur.

“Tell her to come up,” John Glass said.

Excerpted from The Lemur by Benjamin Black
Copyright 2008 by Benjamin Black
Published in July 2008 by Publisher The New Your Times Magazine
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly probited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

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The Lemur 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
Alsek on LibraryThing 8 months ago
This book by Benjamin Black ( a.k.a. John Banville) was serilized in the New York Times before being published in novella form by Picador. It is a standalone mystery set in New York not Dublin where Black's previous works - CHRISTINE FALLS and THE SILVER SWAN were set. The plot involves an Irish journalist named John Glass being asked tyo write the biography of his bigger than life father-in-law Big Bill Mulholland. Glass decides to hire a reseacher named Dylan Riley to help with the biography. Soon afterwards Dylan, also called the Lemur by Glass winds up dead.It is now up to glass to solve the crime. The author is a wonderful writer and the book deserves to be read to experience one of the great craftsman of literature. However if one has not read anything by John Banville I would not start with his mysteries - THE UNTOUCHABLE or THE SEA which won the Booker Prize a few years ago are better places to start with this wonderful writer.
kathleen129 on LibraryThing 8 months ago
A very good short novel. I was on edge from the beginning. Its unpleasant characters kept making me want to put the book down, but I couldn't stop until I finished. The author gives the story a creepy atmosphere all out of proportion to the events in the plot. Quite enjoyable, if an hour or two of tension is your thing.
idiotgirl on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Audiobook. Benjamin Black is the pen name for John Banville. I enjoyed Christine Falls and its follow-up novel The Silver Swan. A fun take on the detective novel with great accent in the reading. This book about an Irishman with an American wife in New York City. A bit of a mystery. A slight book to say the least. Competent. But hardly worth having written. . . . .
MissMermaid118 on LibraryThing 8 months ago
The only reason I can't give this 5 stars is because it's such a perfect example of it's category - it's perfect Noir! That cloud on the cover is NOT cigarette smoke -- it's the oppressive haze of despairing hopelessness that weights the entire novel. It's short; which is good because much more would be suffocating. The writing is elegantly beautiful. And -- dare I say? -- it packs a wallop! Highly recommended.
PirateJenny on LibraryThing 8 months ago
A short little story about secrets and how they can destroy a family. John Glass, former journalist, has been hired by his father-in-law, Bill Mulholland, to write "Big Bill's" biography. As a former CIA agent, there are bound to be some secrets in Bill's past. And a whole lot of other stuff. So John hires a researcher, who he refers to as the Lemur.And just when it seems that the Lemur has stumbled upon a big secret in Bill's past, he turns up dead. Murdered. And John's journalistic background seems to kick in again, spurring him on to find out what secret could possibly have led to the Lemur's murder--although if he follows though it could come at the expense of the destruction of his family.
ansate on LibraryThing 8 months ago
The most impressive thing about this book is the quality of the writing. Not only the use of words more often seen in poetry than prose, but also the smooth transition of character roles that classifies good drama. The only detraction was the lack of likable characters, but in a book this short, it's not too much of a burden to follow them. While I would be hard pressed to call the protagonist a hero, he is presented so that I cannot help but identify with him. The little details of how his mind wanders and the physical effects of being angry make him feel real.Most importantly for any type of mystery, the twists and turns managed to be both unanticipated and reasonable in light of the rest of the story.This is the first book I've read by Benjamin Black. I'll certainly be looking for more.
mdseaton on LibraryThing 8 months ago
I can't decide if this is supposed to be a thriller or a mystery. The set up contains elements of both. John Glass disillusioned Irish journalist living in New York who has married money and now works on a biography of his father-in-law, an ex-CIA operative. The researcher Glass has hired to do his legwork for him quickly turns up dead. The questions are: who killed him and why? If it's a mystery, then Glass must transform himself back into a great reporter, but he doesn't quite do that. If it's a thriller, then we wait to see how quickly his life disintegrates. The narrator does a good job of promising both outcomes, a solution and a train wreck, and the promise of each is plenty enticing, and yet neither one, when played out, actually satisfies. I found myself more struck by the writing, the insights and attention to detail that can give us a maid in uniform serving lemonade while showing the crush she has on her boss, or the disdain that Glass endures from a woman who is about to become his mistress. At one point, the narrator describes a policeman as having "the face of an El Greco martyr." Wonderful. These small moments, and they come along frequently, offer great entertainment. Black's signature is writing scenes in which emotions detonate and the dialog takes such abrupt left turns that the reader can barely keep up. He offers the true sensation of eavesdropping. I think the book first appeared as a magazine serial, and it reads as such. The chapters are tight and of uniform length and they march along to a conclusion without the subplots and diversions that might otherwise be half the fun. Still, it's a good, quick read.
RidgewayGirl on LibraryThing 8 months ago
This is such a slender book that I kept looking at the pages remaining unread, trying to figure out how the author was going to tie up the various intrigues before the book's end. He does, but it turns into a much simpler tale than that alluded to in the first hundred pages. The Lemur is marvelously written; I kept rereading sentences for the enjoyment of reading them again. The writing is anything but lazy; each word is carefully chosen and fits perfectly with those around it, part of the book's slender size is surely due to the author's unwillingness to set down a single unnecessary phrase.On the other hand, the plot begins by hinting at an immense complexity involving big business, an important charitable foundation, shady internet researcher and journalists discovering dark secrets, infidelity and the CIA. This is pared down to a much simpler story, not always to the benefit of the story; much remains unexplained or reduced.
kylenapoli on LibraryThing 8 months ago
This is an architectural drawing of a mystery novel: light, cool, precise, and bloodless. From the first, I was frequently confused about what time period the book was set in, because all outward signs indicate that it takes place in contemporary New York City, but all inward signs would seem more at home in the 1950s. The aptly named narrator, John Glass, is stalled in early middle age, lacking interest or agency and 'unmanned' by the comfortable lifestyle that surrounds him. This arrested state characterizes just about every person you will encounter, most of whom are members of or otherwise tied to the family into which Glass has married. All strong feelings belong to the past -- except someone in the mix rustles up enough gumption to murder a dirt-digging researcher. Although the facts of this mystery will be revealed, my warning is that understanding is unlikely to follow. The "take away" from this cleanly incised text is that lacking great wealth, especially family wealth, is among the luckiest fates that can befall a person.
mdexter on LibraryThing 8 months ago
The Lemur is the latest mystery by John Banville (Booker Prize 2005 for The Sea) writing as Benjamin Black (Christine Falls, The Silver Swan). It first appeared serialized in The New York Times Magazine. As such, it is quite brief (132 pages) and heavily oriented to the New York scene. In fact, Black seems to be almost tongue-in-cheek in his ¿product placement¿ of classic New York locales and habits clearly designed for a New York readership. The plot centers on John Glass, former Irish journalist enlisted by his wealthy father-in-law and former CIA honcho Big Bill Mulholland, to write his biography. Glass enlists a researcher, Dylan Riley, whose looks lead Glass to nickname him the Lemur. Riley turns up some sort of dirt on Big Bill and the next thing you know he¿s murdered. Meanwhile, Glass juggles interactions with his wife, his mistress, and the police trying to figure out what information the Lemur had. The story sags a bit but the twist in the end is satisfying. The beauty of the novel is in the fine writing, a literary mystery that is also a fun read. I look forward to the next in the series begun with Christine Falls and The Silver Swan, but this was a nice diversion in the meantime.
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