Hannibal, by Thomas Harris
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Book Review by Vincent W. Sakowski
Hannibal begins roughly seven years after the ending of The Silence of the Lambs. It picks up with Clarice Starling (the heroine of Silence) as a Special Agent in the FBI, who gets caught up as the fall guy in a shoot-out gone very wrong. Soon afterwards, she is taken out of the story, which switches over to Florence, Italy, to Chief Investigator, Rinaldo Pazzi, and to Hannibal Lecter. Here, Lecter is attempting to become a part of society, but of course he is recognized by Pazzi, et cetera et cetera et cetera.
To complicate matters, Mason Verger, the only victim to have survived Lecter– minus his face, literally– is seeking vengeance of a biblical sort. Using all the advantages that his wealth and influence bring, he has hired a number of people to find and capture Lecter so that he can be eaten alive by specially bred pigs and boars. Starling doesn’t come back into the picture, until it is made known that Hannibal has been discovered and she is needed to help find him.
But enough plot summary — especially since the plot is rather complex and convoluted. With the exception of Hannibal Lecter, most of the returning characters remain largely unexplored. Jack Crawford is almost non-existent, and only a minute amount of information is passed on about the others, leaving them pretty thin — even if you have read Silence.
As for the new characters, they are better developed, but it is quite a freak show — which is interesting in its own way, but it’s also a good indication of where the novel is heading. Generally, Harris is light on the exposition, which keeps his novels moving at a good pace, but it would have been nice to have been given a little more with the characters we have come to know.
The seven years between the two stories should be regarded as “The Lost Years,” as little seems to have happened to anyone. Then suddenly, with the opening shoot-out, everything happens in relatively quick succession — all neatly tied together — much too neatly. Hannibal is a novel of coincidence and convenience, and it is rather predictable, like a B-movie splatterfest. Where it is surprising, the twists are ridiculous, especially in the climax and for the remainder of the book. Harris’s explanation for Starling’s motivation in rescuing Hannibal is painfully thin, and Lecter himself becomes literally untouchable. Whereas Harris’s past two novels were grounded in realism, Hannibal is really a fantasy. Lecter is unstoppable with a seemingly endless supply of funds, ultra-intelligence, superhuman strength, as well as exquisite taste and charm to boot.
The violence is also more gruesome and extreme than in Harris’s last two endeavors. As in his earlier works, Harris does not dwell for very long on these images and scenarios, but as they are much more unique in their atrociousness, they do stay with the reader a lot longer. In such scenes as the dinner near the end of the novel, the action becomes absurd as well as disgusting.
While Harris maintains his relatively smooth style, the story itself is rather unsatisfying. His two previous works were both dark and serious, chilling but compelling, whereas Hannibal is fantastical and rather silly at times. Perhaps sales for the movie rights were playing too strongly in his head, and he wanted to go over the top, but it’s a real loss. I appreciate absurdity, but in this case, Harris seems to be almost parodying his earlier works, and it’s no laughing matter.