Hannibal (Hannibal Lecter #3), by Thomas Harris

My Copy: 0440224675 (image from goodreads.com)

I’ll admit I saw the movie probably half a dozen times before I read the book, and perhaps that’s going to color this review a bit. I finished the book about 1am yesterday, but had to kind of let it simmer a bit because I’m not sure how I feel about it. In a lot of ways, I like it. In other ways, I just can’t get past some aspects of it and it kinda makes me feel rather “meh” about it.

The Silence of the Lambs is definitely my fave in the series so far.

Hannibal starts 7 years after the last book, in which Dr. Lecter escaped and ended up in South America, getting some surgeries done to hide his major attributes before taking off for Europe and a new identity. Clarise Starling has been in the FBI and her star hasn’t risen much after the Buffalo Bill case. She’s a victim of office politics most of the time, and specifically the machinations of Paul Krendler from the Justice Department.

The side-characters seem to dominate this book (or at least their viewpoints and motives do) most of the time, at least til the last third. This book is about delayed vengeance (or justice, depending on your view) by the one victim Lecter left alive, the deformed Mason Verger and his complex relationship with those around him. He’s corrupt and a half, was a depraved child molester among other things before Lecter convinced him (under the influence of drugs) to feed his face to his dogs… and he did. He’s responsible for a substantial bounty on Lecter and has been planning his revenge ever since the day Lecter escaped. The revenge is interesting, and gross as hell while being complicated enough that it involves several Sardinians, who want their own piece of Lecter after one of them is killed by him in Florence.

Crossing paths in Florence is the policeman, Pazzi, who was once celebrated for his good work until the courts found the evidence not good enough and he was crucified in the press. He’s been investigating the disappearance of a renowned scholar and crosses paths with his temporary replacement, Dr. Fell… who may or may not be familiar to readers. Pazzi suspects who he might really be and begins to study and follow him, either to turn him over properly to face justice, or to collect the bounty from Verger.

Those are the basic stories that lead to the resolution. The side-stories regarding Mason Verger just made me annoyed or uncomfortable because it just felt like “we have to hate this guy.” He’s a king-maker of sorts with his wealth and connections, even when bed-bound and crippled, and continues to mess with his bodybuilding lesbian sister, Margot, who hates his guts and only does what he asks because he promised her something (which will be revisited over and over again). Verger’s pulling a lot of people’s strings, especially Paul Krendler’s, because Krendler wants to run for public office and will need political support (his arrogance and unrealized stupidity remind you of old Dr. Chilton very easily, though Krendler has been luckier and wielded a lot more power). I would’ve loved to get more of Krendler’s thought process in this book, because other than the occasional sexual harassment toward Starling over the years (mentioned casually), there isn’t much about his hatred/attraction towards her.

Barney, the friendly orderly that was civil to Lecter during his years in custody, is around here and there, and ends up being a fountain of information to a few different people because of his knowledge of Lecter and Starling.

If there’s something I found rather funny–morbidly so–about this book, it’s that every character in it seems to have some crazy ambition, and will lie, cheat, or steal to get what they want. Clarice might be the only one, at least at first, who is being factual and honest as much as she can, but her career and life have taken major hits for it. I will give props to the book regarding her character arc… at least, most of it. It would make sense that after all these years of doing the job and making it her life, upholding the law, and constant warnings that the job won’t love her back… she’s becoming jaded and questioning her choices in life. Lecter’s appearance on the global radar gives her a sense of purpose, but it also gives Verger and his cronies an excuse to use her and manipulate behind the scenes to ensure that whatever happens to Starling will get on Lecter’s radar, too… and what would he do for Starling?

This is probably one of the few times that the movie narrowly beats out the book as far as storytelling goes. I think the side-stories were just too complicated (and repetitive) in the book at times, though I gotta admit, I still can’t figure out which of the final scenes with Mason Verger I preferred. While the book version would’ve been very crazy to see on screen and was amazing to imagine, the movie version was rather poetic as well. Naturally the movie streamlines, but now with the book’s resolution to Clarise’s character arc… I’m not sure. Both versions fit rather well with what they’d put out, and the very different endings attest to that. The book’s last few chapters, after the Verger scenes, just felt really off to me. Maybe it’s the techniques Hannibal was using to get to things and Clarise’s responses… something just felt either too rushed or too off-the-wall.

This is why I’m still thinking which I prefer. Many people call this book the best in the series, but I’ll still go with SOTL. Hannibal is interesting, but an odd duck. I don’t hate it, but I’d be okay never reading it again… well, maybe once to see if I missed something.

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