When Thomas Harris created the infamous Hannibal Lector in Red Dragon he couldn’t have known the influence that character would have on crime fiction for the next decade. By the time he came to write Hannibal, ten years after his previous book, The Silence of The Lambs, he must have felt some serious pressure. The fact that Hannibal is the book it is, when written under these circumstances, makes it all the more remarkable.
To call it a crime novel is doing it a grave injustice and reading it as such will also leave the reader disappointed. This book sits closer to Stoker’s Dracula or Shelly’s Frankenstein than the serial killer fare of Michael Connelly. Treat this book more as gothic fairytale and you won’t be disappointed.
Gripping and intricate, it presents the reader with an unflinching look into the lives of its two very troubled protagonists. In many ways it reminded me of the French horror stories of the early 20th C that reveled the grotesque and horrible to a point that even modern readers might be repelled by. Unflinchingly raw, it asks for nothing but your attention as it peels back the skins of two very troubled characters and takes a good long look at what lies beneath.
Seven years older, Clarice Starling is trying to maintain her integrity in a world where that very characteristic is considered a severe flaw. Trying to mete out justice and not just adhere to the party line, she makes a crucial decision to save Dr Lecter. After that, everything changes.
With Dr Lecter, Harris makes a very interesting choice to take a new look at one of the world’s great anti-heroes as he presents the reader with a man crumbling under the weight of his unresolved past. Still suave and capable, Dr Lecter is still recognizable as the man we encountered in “Silence of the Lambs”, but he is now a man caught between the tragedies of his past, and his compulsive attraction to Clarice Starling.
The ending turns everything on its head…black becomes white, white becomes black…the good guys get eaten and the bad guys live happily ever after, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.