The Barnes & Noble Review
The problem that a novelist faces when he or she has written one of the most unforgettable novels of popular fiction in the late 20th century might seem daunting to some. Thomas Harris -- one of the least prolific of the bestselling writers -- has produced four novels in nearly as many decades: Black Sunday, a technothriller of terrorism at the Super Bowl, Red Dragon, and the most famous, The Silence of the Lambs.
Now the fourth: Hannibal.
The movie of The Silence of the Lambs looms in the imagination. It is, like the movie of Rosemary's Baby, nearly as good or even better in spots than the original novel it's based on -- a rarity in film. The actors in The Silence of the Lambs, Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, and even Scott Glenn, became the characters Clarice Starling, Hannibal Lecter, and Jack Crawford. It's hard to read the novel now without imagining Jodie's face as Clarice. It's harder to read Hannibal without this same recognition.
That's the worst thing I can say about Hannibal, which deserves all the hype it's received.
This is one page-turning, scary as hell novel, with more of a solid FBI presence than existed in The Silence of the Lambs (and let me stop comparing them now. Silence had its own presentation. Haninbal has a separate but connected life.)
I actually read it in one sitting.
Hannibal opens with a bloody confrontation -- Clarice Starling is taking the heat. She's been pulled in by her friend John Brigham to go on a run to bust up a drug operation. The woman running it, Evelda Drumgo, is a gun-toting mother -- with baby in tow -- who lets loose on Clarice and her colleagues. Brigham and others fall. When Evelda aims at Clarice, the FBI agent manages to take her down and still save the baby. Only problem is, the TV cameras were already on the scene, and the pictures tell the story of a hotshot FBI agent who took out an African-American woman with a baby in her arms.
This is only the beginning of Clarice's troubles.
Soon, the Agency wants her out. This is the final straw: she has been perceived by some in power as a cocky, out-of-her-league wannabe; now, she's primed to be a scapegoat for what looks like an Agency screw-up. When a strange envelope arrives through the mail, Clarice suspects it's a letter bomb -- but what's inside the envelope may be the biggest explosion of all.
It's from Hannibal.
He still cares.
All right, a little background for those of you who went to Mars in the past decade and missed The Silence of the Lambs and Red Dragon (and if you did, buy them now. They are both phenomenal.) Dr. Hannibal Lecter was once a psychiatrist, but his taste for the finer things -- that is, human organs -- caused problems in his chosen profession. He is both a terror and something of a detective, in that he has a history of knowing where the bodies are buried, where the secrets are answered, and how to turn the key in the lock of the human mind. Anyone who has read the first two novels dealing with him knows that he also may be one of the most fascinating fictional characters ever created, even if he does have a tendency to skin faces and nosh a bit too often on human liver. He was incarcerated in what seemed like a medieval dungeon in an insane asylum, and that's where Clarice first met him.
There's almost a dark father-daughter thing going between them, just as there is a light father-daughter thing between Jack Crawford, the formidable head honcho of the Behavioral Science area of the Federal Bureau of Investigations, and Clarice. Crawford wants to know why Lecter is writing to Clarice -- and he attacks it from a fresh angle. One of Lecter's surviving victims is named Mason Verger. Verger, wealthy from a meatpacking fortune, survives now on a breathing machine (yes, the attack was that bad), and wants to see Clarice. Again, Clarice is baffled, but as she travels to Verger's Maryland estate, she learns more about Hannibal and his past adventures.
And now, the hunt is on -- for Mason Verger has a vital clue as to catching Hannibal Lecter once and for all, and Clarice Starling must now re-enter a wonderland of terrors that she left behind when she began her journey in The Silence of the Lambs.
And no, I will not tell you more, for each piece of this intricate puzzle opens onto another -- and half the fun is in the opening of each chapter to find another dazzling connection to that Doctor of Infernal Medicine.
Get this one. Don't pass it up. Don't believe the naysayers who think that The Silence of the Lambs is sacred and all other writs are unholy by Harris. Hannibal is a worthy successor to The Silence of the Lambs and Red Dragon. And I'm thrilled it finally came out.
Now, Mr. Harris:
Do I have to wait another decade or so for my next Hannibal fix?
Take the Hannibal Quiz!
We've come up with some questions to further your enjoyment of Hannibal: Bone up on your knowledge of the myth and the man, and see if you're ready for the next stage in his life story. See if you can beat your friends at what should be a fairly easy series of questions based on the past Hannibal novels -- unless you're not up on the man behind the mask. Answers run beneath the questions. No cheating!
13 Questions to Test Your Hannibal I.Q.
1. What was the first novel by Thomas Harris in which Hannibal Lecter made an appearance?
2. Name three famous Hannibals -- one from history, two from literature.
3. What is one of Hannibal's favorite meals -- including his wine, side dish, and main dish?
4. What science was Hannibal formally trained in?
5. What is the name of the second novel in which Hannibal appears?
6. What famous criminally insane man is the murderer in The Silence of the Lambs somewhat based on?
7. Who played Hannibal Lecter in the megahit movie The Silence of the Lambs ?
8. What is the name of the moth that symbolizes both death and transformation in The Silence of the Lambs ?
9. Who is the Tooth Fairy (with regard to Thomas Harris's novels)? And Buffalo Bill?
10. To what does the title The Silence of the Lambs refer?
11. Does Clarice Starling make an appearance in Red Dragon ?
12. Who, besides Hannibal Lecter, appears in both Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs ?
13. What is Hannibal's favorite soothing facial mask made from?
1.Red Dragon. The movie based on this novel is called Manhunter. We prefer the book's title.
2. First there's Hannibal the leader who tried to ride elephants over the Alps many centuries ago -- but he didn't quite make it (see The War with Hannibal ). Then there's Hannibal, Missouri, the home of Becky Thatcher, Tom Sawyer, and Huck Finn ( Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn). And finally, our favorite, Hannibal the Cannibal. Somehow, there's a connection.
3. A nice Chianti, fava beans, and...human liver. We're not sure if he likes it with a sifting of flour or onions on top. For tips on great ways to prepare liver -- of the nonhuman variety -- check out The Complete Meat Cookbook.
4. Psychiatry. And you thought he was a chef! For another glance at psychiatry and insanity, try Guilt by Reason of Insanity: A Psychiatrist Probes the Minds of Killers
5. The Silence of the Lambs. If you missed this question, you need to grab this book now and catch up on one of the most suspenseful and horrifying reads of the century.
6. Ed Gein. The killer in Psycho is somewhat inspired by him as well. To find out more about Ed, try the terrific true-crime book Deviant by Harold Schechter. Schechter is right up there with Anne Rule ( Bitter Harvest ) as one of the best of the new breed of true-crime chroniclers.
7. Anthony Hopkins. That's Sir Anthony Hopkins (Anthony Hopkins: The Authorized Biography ).
8. The death's-head moth. The killer in The Silence of the Lambs does something with this moth, particularly in its pupal stage. Read the book to find out what that is. Or find out more about moths in general with Peterson First Guide to Butterflies and Moths.
9. The Tooth Fairy is the nickname given to the murderer in Red Dragon. Buffalo Bill is the nickname the media gives the killer in The Silence of the Lambs.
10. The title The Silence of the Lambs refers to Clarice's childhood and the slaughter of lambs on a farm on which she lived for a brief period. To tell more would ruin the fun for anyone who has not yet read this terrifying novel.
11. No, Clarice is not anywhere to be found in Red Dragon. But she is in The Silence of the Lambs -- and Hannibal.
12. Agent Crawford. Grab a copy of Red Dragon to find out more about this fascinating FBI agent. For a great nonfiction book on a fascinating FBI profiler of serial killers, you need to check out Mindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crimes Unit.
13. It ain't an oatmeal-and-avocado mask. Hannibal prefers the skin of a human face to keep that rosy youthful glow. No book recommendations come to mind on this one.