The Silence of the Lambs
(Hannibal Lecter #2)
by Thomas Harris
Genre: fiction, horror, thriller, mystery
Awards: Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel (1988), Anthony Award for Best Novel (1989)
known only by a grotesquely apt nickname – “Buffalo Bill” – is stalking women. He has a purpose, but no one can fathom it, for the bodies are discovered in different states.
Clarice Starling, a young trainee at the FBI Academy, is surprised to be summoned by Jack Crawford, chief of the Bureau’s Behavioral Science section.
Her assignment: to interview Dr. Hannibal Lecter – “Hannibal the Cannibal” – who is kept under close watch in the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane.
I started reading this entire series with this book as it won a number of awards unlike the prequel Red Dragon. I promise to get back to it next year since I like Will Graham from the TV series although I may have to rediscover him again. I must say though, the series adaptation made me immune to a lot of gruesome stuff so this book did not scare me as much as it could have years before. It had to have been a very great shock to the first readers though.
“I collect church collapses, recreationally. Did you see the recent one in Sicily? Marvelous! The facade fell on sixty-five grandmothers at a special mass. Was that evil? If so, who did it? If he’s up there, he just loves it, Officer Starling. Typhoid and swans – it all comes from the same place.”
Hannibal Lecter is a fascinating villain or adversary – he’s shrewd, calculating, and manipulative to the extreme and yet his thin veneer of civilisation makes people underestimate him time and time again. Yet he isn’t entirely predictable despite the way he reacts to people and events – he adjusts surprisingly well and knows how to don a myriad of masks. Those who learn to fear him also learn to never underestimate his ingenuity and insight. His guard at the asylum is just one such man and I loved the way he interacts with Hannibal and how the gruesome killer respects him for his professionalism. This is one fascinating dynamic in the book that I really enjoyed.
“I would not have had that happen to you. Discourtesy is unspeakably ugly to me.”
Hannibal plays with Clarice Starling as she carefully digs for information about Buffalo Bill. He uses her as a new ‘patient’ he can dig into and analyse to amuse himself but she surprises him a time or two by utterly thwarting him and by not being overly bothered with some of his insights. Clarice is young but she’s far from stupid and he learns to respect her, even like her. He gives her some good advice and offers some startling insights into the human condition and society in particular. You get why he made such a great psychiatrist – he’s so sharp it hurts though.
“Good-bye Clarice. Will you let me know if ever the lambs stop screaming?” “Yes.” Pembry was taking her arm. It was go or fight him. “Yes,” she said. “I’ll tell you.” “Do you promise?””Yes.”
I really like the dynamic between Hannibal and Clarissa even though their conversations made me slightly uncomfortable, bordering on creepy. But that is what we expect of Hannibal, the man who casually murders people in his way or to amuse himself. That a young woman can keep pace with him at last for a time is astounding. I really like Clarice – she’s an amazing character. A woman of humble origins with a mix of determination, gumption, and clear-headedness, she excels in following leads. She’s thorough and methodical, and most of all she isn’t afraid of taking risks that could help save a person yet inconvenience her career. That’s courage. She’s also able to treat Hannibal as a person not a monster, though she knows damn well that that is what he really is. No wonder the man is intrigued by her. Just please don’t let him hurt her!
“And your dinner for the orchestra officials.”
“Haven’t you ever had people coming over and no time to shop? You have to make do with what’s in the fridge, Clarice. May I call you Clarice?”
Buffalo Bill is one of the more gruesome serial killers I’ve ever had the misfortune to read about, so kudos to the author for making me utterly disgusted and even slightly afraid. To have a killer obsessed with creating the perfect woman suit out of his victim’s skin is just… How do you even think about something like this as an author? The total dehumanisation of victims appears even more monstrous if you compare it to Jame’s (Buffalo Bill’s) relationship with his dog. Ugh. The horror factor shot up when we came to this part of the story. Not that the moths weren’t creepy enough to start with. So yeah, you can imagine just what I’ve seen in the TV series that this didn’t top my list of gruesome things.
“What does he do, Clarice? What is the first and principal thing he does, what need does he serve by killing? He covets. How do we begin to covet? We begin by coveting what we see every day.”
Yet the book is highly readable and the insight into a killer’s psyche superb. Jame and Hannibal aren’t caricatures but feel complex enough that you can see the human in them. Now that is some good writing and characterisation. Doctor Chilton, Crawford, and other characters Clarice interacts with too feel very much alive and important to the events playing out. Crawford is just one of those characters that get under your skin and I had constant flash-backs to Laurence Fishburne in Hannibal as I read his dialogue with Clarice. He’s almost like a mirror to Hannibal but he does care for the people he interacts with. I like the dynamic he has with Clarice as well and I hope to see him advising her in the future as well.
“I’m not sure you get wiser as you get older, Starling, but you do learn to dodge a certain amount of hell.”
I thoroughly enjoyed the book but I feel there could be more of an ending to the story as everything is pretty much left in the air regarding Hannibal. Well, I will definitely read the next book and finally get to the movie adaptations as well – I’ve put them off for far too long.