The Silence of the Lambs (Hannibal Lecter #2) by Thomas Harris

My Copy: 0312924585 (Image from bn.com)

Hannibal Lecter is back and smoother than before. Reading about him is like a slow burn of a good long leg stretch, feeling that tension, and then the knee locks and you feel the jolt of an abrupt pop and the burn after makes you anxious.

The Silence of the Lambs regards the FBI Behavioral Sciences office and the ever-present Jack Crawford. Will Graham is long gone, referred to as pickling his liver on the beach in Florida while he hides his disfigured face and speaks to few. Crawford needs some help and in comes Clarice Starling. She’s not an FBI agent, but a trainee still going through her courses and exams. But as a student she struck Crawford with her brightness and ambition, and so he sends her on an errand to interview Hannibal Lecter while he works the main case. Clarice does so, and that gets the ball rolling on the rest of the story.

The scenes between Clarice and Hannibal are great to read, and feel similar to what was depicted on the screen. Crawford’s actually working on the case of a serial killer that’s been named Buffalo Bill because he removes the skin of his victims, mostly plus-sized women, but he’s done other things that become apparent as the story continues. Crawford hopes Hannibal knows something about Buffalo Bill and will tell Clarice. Things accelerate when Bill finds a new victim, who happens to be the daughter of a senator, and they know they have only days to find her.

If there’s one main element I could say is the catalyst for much of the story, it’s not murder, but ambition. Politics and ambition get in the way of some of the people that are supposed to be doing what they can to stop Buffalo Bill and save Catherine Martin’s life. The much loathed and haughty Dr. Chilton who is the head psychiatrist at Lecter’s sanitarium despises and is envious of Lecter’s respect in the field of psychiatry, and that creates a lot of issues that lead to the most exciting and tense element at the end of the 2nd act, so to speak. Senator Martin is a worried mother, but comes off also as a woman who must protect her image, which rubs Clarise the wrong way in their initial meeting. Paul Krendler from the Justice department teeters between being a problem and being helpful during the investigation as Clarise gets closer to the answers, but the resistance to her and Crawford’s involvement grows as well.

I stayed up way too late getting farther and farther in the book the past two nights. Even though I’d seen the film, I wanted to know more, to see how Mr. Harris would describe the events. If you’ve seen the amazing film, then be assured that the film is really close to the book. Some events have been condensed due to time, and there’s some explanation of Jame Gumb and what he was like before the events of the story toward the end. That part felt more tacked on, but I did wonder about his backstory, so I was glad to read it. The biggest change perhaps is Crawford’s character, who has more to deal with in this book in addition to trying to solve the case, and I won’t spoil the issue here.

I really enjoyed reading this, and I love Clarise. She’s even more interesting than in the film because you get more an idea of what she’s thinking. She’s equally used to and frustrated by the attentions of men around her, even in the law enforcement community, and you get her sense of annoyance about having to navigate the waters of sexism.** Chilton’s clumsy passes at her in the beginning, and his irritation afterward, made me want to laugh and cringe in turns. It’s easy to forget that when this book was written, not many women were in federal law enforcement, so there was a lot of learning curves to traverse.

All in all, this was a great read and I’ll be back to this (and the film) repeatedly.

***

** I’ve watched quite a few “first reactions” YouTube videos where mostly Millennials were watching The Silence of the Lambs. Most of them were men and I guess in this time of seeking inclusion and acceptance, they saw something I barely noticed when I first watched the flick decades ago. When it came to the scenes where Clarice was being observed by other men, it made the men watching the movie uncomfortable. One of them (forgot who) referenced the male gaze and how downright creepy it was. He got it: it IS freaking creepy. That’s what it felt like the director was going for, everybody’s observing this attractive woman like she’s an exotic specimen at the zoo. I probably saw a dozen reactions and more than half brought it up.

I also keep thinking about how there were many men watching her in different scenes, staring and wondering what she was doing or capable of, but the only men who ever touched her were the ones who actually respected her: Crawford (at the end with the handshake) and Lecter (with his finger brushing over hers as he returned her case file). The camera lingered each time, making it obvious.

I always thought that was neat.

A plaintive Missed Connections strung out on light poles ...

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