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2.6 out of 5 stars45
2.6 out of 5 stars
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Read this last night in one sitting - it's a slim volume. I can't help feeling extremely bemused and disappointed. The beautiful prose of the other Black books (which featured Quirke, the 1950s Dublin pathologist) has vanished, leaving a trail of cringey cliches. Set in contemporary New York, it felt like Black trotted out every rotten phrase that could go in a detective novel. (It's about a journalist commissioned to write the biography of his incredibly rich former CIA father-in-law, who immediately gets into trouble doing so.) There were three of the most ill-conceived characters of non-Caucasian origin I've read in a 21st century novel, including an African American journalist of epic-ly distasteful proportions; AND the plot was... lame.

I love everything else I've ever read by John Banville / Benjamin Black, so I can only assume that this is an experiment in genre fiction gone horribly wrong. (Perhaps he was trying to create for today something like the hard-boiled style of noir American thriller writers?) The best bit about the book is the title, which refers to one of the characters, and which really made me remember why I like his writing usually.

Anyway, I didn't like it, and I wouldn't recommend it!
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VINE VOICEon 25 February 2010
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is very short story. John Glass, the main character, is a journalist who was once revered, tasked with writing the biography of his Father-in-Law, a colourful character but with skeletons in his closet. The tale opens with Glass recruiting a researcher to assist with the book, and everything unravels from there, once that researcher is murdered.

The eventual resolution comes as no real surprise, but I was left with the impression that the writer had something to say, and couldn't quite make up his mind what sort of book he should use to say it. There are severaL treads that are left hanging - the relationship with the investigating officer is clunky to say the least - and the stereotypical characters don't help.

Either the book is too long and should have been a short story, or too short, because the pace destroys any real character development.
Whatever, if you do decide to read the book, you won't waste too much of your time making up your own mind on it's merits
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on 29 December 2009
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is one of the most turgid and least involving books it has been my misfortune to read.It has infinitely less depth of characterisation to its wafer-thin, opaque, two-dimensional characters than one would reasonably expect from the denizens of the 'Dandy', 'Beano', or even 'Viz' which by comparison stand as individuals drawn from life. Similarly, the author has neglected to create a sense of place or time, with the exception of slinging into the mix fleeting mention of the odd tourist haven, a designer name or two, a couple of 'luminaries' of times past, and random items from a restaurant menu, none of which build suspense or move the storyline (such as it is) along to any degree.

It's almost as if the author had watched a surfeit of 'CSI' and 'Law and Order' then bashed out a painfully slim novella based purely upon jump-cutting and snap-shots but without the engaging soundtrack of these two excellent, if improbable, series.

As a final insult the story ends with a mass, a plethora, a veritable tangled skein of unresolved loose ends, pitiful.

Had it not been for the typesetting and a font which would look more at home in a remedial volume, or a book for the less gifted pre-schooler, this story (for want of a better word) would have been hard-pressed to make it into one of the cheaper magazines as a filler.

I can only hope that Mr Black/Banville was having an 'off' period when this was written, however, I shall never know not wanting to chance wasting my hard-earned pittance. Should he want to know how to do the job well may I commend to him the following:

 Rendezvous in Black (Modern Library)
The Continental Op (Vintage crime/Black Lizard)
Lennox: A Man for Hire, But Not For Sale
Trouble is My Business
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
John Banville is a great writer and the prospect of reading a book by his alter ego Benjamin Black was something I looked forward to. I found however that The Lemur, while not a bad book, left me disappointed.

There's nothing wrong with the plot:- an investigative journalist is commissioned to write the biography of his father-in-law (an electronics billionaire with not a few skeletons in the cupboard) and finds various pitfalls and intrigues along the way. But somehow the book fails to inspire. I think this is down to the fact that its just too short. 184 pages with fairly spaced-out typesetting, makes it feel like a novella or even a short-story than a full-length novel. The books short length means that its lacking in several areas, not least character development. In The Lemur, we meet people but fail to empathise with them because we don't get inside their heads.

Having just read and reviewed Banville's latest book The Infinities, I would say that The Lemur bears no relation to his other work The Infinities. This is not like Ruth Rendell who when writing as Barbara Vine writes with equal quality. Its more like Banville is slumming it, maybe having a bit of fun with the American crime genre, but failing to achieve anything like the panache of say Elmore Leonard or Carl Haasen.

My overall opinion of this book is "must try harder". I'm not inspired to read the other Benjamin Black books but other's have said they're rather good.
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on 10 October 2009
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I kept waiting for this book to start properly! When I got to the end, I felt as if it had been setting the scene for pages and pages - but nothing ever really happened. Written by John Banville under the pen name of Benjamin Black, The Lemur is a world away from Banville's fiction.

The plot is a pretty good one, and The Lemur gets off to a punchy start. The characters are carefully drawn but I found them a little bit bland and one-dimensional. It's a book with a lot of reflection, rather than action - which personally I felt was a little frustrating. Not much actually happens, which is a shame because the storyline has a lot of potential that I didn't think was fully explored. For instance, the Lemur's ambiguously drawn girlfriend never develops beyond an abortive coffee date - surely could be more there than meets the eye? As it was, I felt disappointed by the lack of development.

I don't mean to be too damning - The Lemur was a decent read, Banville/Black is obviously a good writer, and I thought there was a great deal of potential in the overlap between family/professional lives in the plot. I also liked the basic premise and felt it was well-written. It was just a shame that the characters and the plot did not develop beyond the basic. I felt that there should have been more here, but unfortunately there wasn't. A slim book that is okay, but could clearly have been great with a bit more development.
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VINE VOICEon 15 October 2009
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
In spite of the way in which it is marketed the Lemur is not really a thriller at all. Rather it is a novella exploring relationships amongst some of New York's privileged elite.

At first the book is relatively promising; it appears that it will be a good examination of the relationships between the various characters and how distrust and secrets poison these. Unfortunately, as most of the characters, with the exception of the central character, John Glass, they are all ciphers. None engage the interests or emotions of the readers. As a result the reader simply stops caring about them and therefore stops caring about the narrative in which they were involved.

This novel was originally a serialisation in the New York Times and one can't help feeling that therein lies the book's weakness. It is as if the author started with some enthusiasm, but then simply ran out of steam and his ennui infects the writing. The eventual denouement is so fatuous that it is as if the writer simply wanted to bring it all to an end as quickly as possible.

This is a real shame as the book started so promisingly and much of the prose is very fine indeed.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 16 November 2009
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I realise I will be going over old ground with this so I will keep it short. This book is short, incredibly so given the cover price and the previous work of the author. That Banville is an excellent author is in no doubt but this seems to be an experiment that has gone badly wrong. I actually passed this onto my parents, both keen readers of detective/thriller novels and both came back with the same comments. Too short and too weak. The only thing we could all say that was at least it only took an evening to finish and be done with so time wasted was minimal.

I think it is laudible that an accomplished and talented author like Banville should have the desire to experiment and want to step out of the comfort zone with his art. What is disappointing is that something as third rate as this book should not have made it beyond the rough notepad, let alone through the publishers door. Trading on a great name is quite disrespectful to the readers who have shown appreciation and support for an author they have come to expect more from.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Having read and enjoyed several of John Banville's novels I was looking forward to reading him in his crime writing persona. But The Lemur was very disappointing. After a good beginning the plot became really flat and there was simply no suspense as the narrative moved to its conclusion. I thought the device of a rich, successful businessman employing his son-in-law to write his biography very odd. Surely most biographies are arranged to be written via a publisher?

The character of The Lemur - a young researcher - was interesting and could have been developed further but he was only present for a few pages. I didn't feel I could care about any of the other characters.

Hard to believe this was by the same author as The Untouchable and The Book of Evidence.
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Set in New York, not Dublin, this novella by Benjamin Black (the pen name used by Booker Prize-winning author John Banville for his mystery novels) follows the attempts by John Glass, a former journalist from Ireland, to write the biography of his American father-in-law. Big Bill Mulholland, described as "South Boston Irish," is a legend. Recruited for the CIA upon his graduation from Boston College, he was a specialist in electronic surveillance in Korea, Latin America, Europe, and Vietnam. Later he went into the communications business, set up Mulholland Cable, became a millionaire many times over.

Now Mulholland lives the good life, having set up a charitable trust, which is run by Glass's wife Louise, who is also a UN Special Ambassador for Culture, and he wants Glass to write his biography. "Not a hagiography--I don't merit one, I'm no saint," he insists. "What I want is the truth."

Glass, who has covered Northern Ireland, the Tiananmen Square massacre, and the Rwandan genocide, fears that writing this biography may undermine any journalistic credibility he ever earned, but he has no choice. He secretly hires a young man, Dylan Riley, to gather information for him, and Riley soon discovers something--something so secret that he tries to blackmail Glass into giving him half of the money Mulholland is paying Glass, or he will reveal his information publicly. Before Riley can meet Glass to talk, however, Riley turns up dead, shot through the eye. John Glass turns detective, fearing that his own affair with a young artist may be the damaging secret. When a journalist injects himself into the story of Riley's death, the backgrounds of the various Mulholland family members are gradually revealed.

As always, author John Banville (writing as Black) writes with powerful descriptive skills, and his sense of narrative pacing is unerring. This novella, however, is too short to allow for much development of mood or atmosphere, and there is little opportunity for him to develop the kinds of complications which make mystery stories challenging. His characters, too, are sketches, rather than fully developed human beings, and they remain stereotypes, their behavior fairly predictable. As a result, the kind of last minute revelations and dramatic tours de force which sometimes make short mysteries such a delight to read never occur here. Ultimately, the book feels like the outline for a much longer and more complex novel. Mary Whipple
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VINE VOICEon 3 March 2010
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
John Banville is undoubtedly a great writer, but I didn't enjoy this book. Banville is known for his literary works, and in "The Lemur" he produces a crime thriller under the pseudonym Benjamin Black. I haven't read his other two crime novels, but based on this one, I won't be rushing out to buy them.

The book starts off fairly promisingly, with an interview between a former journalist and a researcher he is hiring to help him write his father-in-law's biography. The descriptions are good, and there is an immediate indication that the father-in-law will prove to have something to hide. But after that the book rapidly goes downhill. There are only three or four real characters in this short novel, and none of them really came to life for me. They all ended up a bit stereotypical. John Glass, the central character, is a washed up journalist living on his wealthy wife's income. The plot of the novel is very thin - at several points the characters seem to jump to the correct conclusions for no apparent reason. We never see the murder scene, and the detail of how the victim is killed is a bit sketchy and slow to emerge. The victim isn't a particularly sympathetic character, when we meet him briefly in the opening meeting with John Glass. He subsequently tries to blackmail John. Very little actually happens - most of the interesting events occur in the background, and the reader is told about them via another character. At the end of the book, although John Glass now knows who committed the murder and why (not because he finds it out through detection, but largely because another character tells him) it's not clear what he will do next. Normally this would feel like an unfinished ending, but to be honest, the book held my attention so little that it really didn't matter.

Read one of Banville's great novels instead - give this one a miss.
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