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"Now that ceaseless exposure has calloused us to the lewd and the vulgar," Thomas Harris writes in HANNIBAL, "it is instructive to see what still seems wicked to us. What still slaps the clammy flab of our submissive consciousness hard enough to get our attention?"

Harris is describing the Italian mediaeval torture museum where Hannibal Lector, seven years beyond the grasp of the law and his own incarceration, observes the public's thrall with the brutal, the macabre and the evil. He could just as easily be describing the world of 1999, setting the tone of his long-awaited sequel to THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. Is the reading public sated with blood and grisly events played against the backdrop of recent national calamities? Or does "humanizing" Hannibal Lecter, and this happens to a certain extent in HANNIBAL, shed light on how lives can become so destroyed that the survivors themselves become the purveyors of evil?

It has been 11 years since THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS established the benchmark by which all other psychological thrillers are measured. Our world has experienced many real-life horrors since entering the mind of a cannibalistic serial killer in one of the best-selling thrillers of all time.

Lecter is living the privileged life of a patron del arte' in the seat of world culture --- Florence. Hiding behind the results of skillful plastic surgery, he is surrounded by great works of art, opera, the finest gourmet foods. He attempts to gain the respect of the historical art connoisseurs after ensuring his appointment to the curator's position of a museum when its current director goes missing.

Clarice Starling, the unforgettable heroine of THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, is leading quite another kind of life. Unappreciated and underutilized in the FBI, her career is dangling by a thread after a shootout. She is dragged through the tabloid press as "The Death Angel: Clarice Starling, the FBI's Killing Machine." The fearsome Dr. Lecter sees the headlines and out of sympathy and respect, contacts Clarice for the first time since his escape. Clarice immediately turns the disturbing letter over to her superiors, and the manhunt begins.

One of Dr. Lecter's victims still lives, paralyzed, hideously scarred and attached to respirators. Reliant on round-the-clock caretakers, Mason Verger, a wealthy former patient of Lecter's whose pedophilia pushed the doctor to try to rid the world of him, will spare nothing to exact revenge. A former child molester, Verger is a greater beast perhaps than Lecter. Despite his infirmities, he continues to torment orphans and troubled children in his aerie in the Virginia countryside with the help of a depraved staff. The book revolves around the struggle between these two arch-villains and Starling's attempt to track down her nemesis.

Harris takes us on a sensorial voyage from Washington and Virginia in the early days of the Lewinsky scandal, to the splendor of Tuscany. His gift for summoning our faculties of scent, vision, hearing, touch and oral pleasure is surpassed only by his deeply disturbed villains, whose actions are guided by the deepest primal functions of the brain.

Concerned about not remembering enough of THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS in order to enjoy HANNIBAL? Harris skillfully reconstructs the original story without patronizing the reader. Further, while we are reminded of how Lecter drew out Starling to reveal her innermost secrets, we are treated --- or perhaps exposed --- to the events in Lecter's young life that drove him to madness.

HANNIBAL is not for the faint of heart. For devotees of THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and the work of Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Jeffrey Deavers and other masters of the horror genre, a page-turning, disturbing, and alas, highly hyped, sequel awaits.

When movies are held for distribution without allowing critics to preview them, an aura of "flop" is lent to the production. The refusal by the publishers to prerelease the novel for review prior to the public sale date has led to skepticism about the book's quality. But Harris' brilliant portrayal of the century's most depraved anti-hero/villain will keep fans turning pages to the grisly finish.

It is impossible for anyone who saw the movie version of THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS to read HANNIBAL and not see Anthony Hopkins and Jody Foster in the lead roles. This is not a distraction --- indeed, it enhances the already vivid setting.

HANNIBAL may not approach the initial spine-chilling horror of SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. Is this because, as Harris says, "ceaseless exposure has calloused us to the lewd and the vulgar," or is it less a thriller? The power of a book often lies in its ability to linger in the mind, to haunt our dreams and attach itself to our memories. Will HANNIBAL leave the same imprint on its readers as SILENCE? And, will there be another sequel?

Reviewed by Roz Shea on May 23, 2000

by Thomas Harris

  • Publication Date: May 23, 2000
  • Mass Market Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Dell
  • ISBN-10: 0440224675
  • ISBN-13: 9780440224679