Thomas Harris
Hannibal (1999)
Reviewed: 2001-01-13

Thrillers don't come any better than this one. Penned in gorgeous prose, in fact exceedingly well-written in all respects, Hannibal is the immediate sequel to The Silence of the Lambs and thus third in a series of linked books that started with Red Dragon.

Seven years ago, fledgling FBI agent Clarice Starling tracked down serial killer Jame Gumb with the help of the even more horrifying Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter. Starling's success didn't go down well with everybody, and as a consequence she hasn't made the expected career. At the outset of the novel, Starling takes part in a drug raid that ends in disaster. Faced with a public outcry, the various law enforcement agencies involved in the mess need a scapegoat and decide to make Starling take the fall.

Meanwhile we learn that Lecter, who escaped in the previous novel from institutional care for the criminally insane, has found a new livelihood in the Italian city of Firenze. Dr. Lecter, who still holds a mysterious fascination for Starling, learns about her predicament and seeks to make contact with her, while still hiding from the FBI and the Italian police.

Another major player in the game is Mason Verger, member of an immensely rich and powerful family and a barely surviving early victim of Lecter. Horribly maimed, Verger tries to capture Lecter to extract his own personal revenge from the doctor. After an extended subplot in Tuscany, Lecter and the action return to the United States.

We also meet again with several familiar faces. Apart from Starling and Lecter, there are tired FBI section chief Jack Crawford, Starling's old friend Mapp from the days of the FBI Academy, and a few more. The novel features a cast of diverse, memorable, and predominantly insane characters. There is corruption throughout. Roles are reversed when the old boys network instead of the serial killer poses the primary threat to Starling. Harris portrays an incredible wickedness. There seems to be no limit to his depiction of the human abyss.

As the title suggests, Dr. Lecter, who was more of a peripheral character in Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs, now takes center stage. This was risky, as the horror caused by Lecter was substantially based on the reader knowing very little about him, but Harris is quite successful. Although there is always some distance separating the reader from the monster, we learn a lot more about Lecter's mind and his motivations. In Hannibal his superhuman qualities make him stand out as much as his atrocities.

Hannibal is thoroughly chilling, horrifying, and very very good. A strong stomach is recommended.

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