[631] The Silence of the Lambs – Thomas Harris

lambs

Read and reviewed in Pattaya, Thailand

” He had done it five times that they knew of, had Bill. At least five times, and probably more, over the past ten months he had abducted a woman, killed her and skinned her. ” (Ch.11, p.70)

The Silence of the Lambs is obviously not Hannibal Lecter’s first outing, but it certainly will remain the most memorable of the four that feature him. In this book, the FBI requires the doctor’s insight in order to catch another serial killer Buffalo Bill, who enjoys parading about in the flayed skins of his victims. At once a serial killer himself, Hannibal Lecter is locked in a high-security prison, where trainee agent Clarice Starling is sent to charm him into offering help.

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 everyday. (Ch.47, p.296)

Lecter agrees, n the condition that Starling reveal details of her early life for analysis, and much of the novel is devoted to their queasy tête-à-tête. Lecter is cold, calculating, charming, lucid, highly dangerous and utterly remorsely. But in the company of Clarice Starling, he is a polite, even avuncular presence. And therein lies the magic of his character: one is scared of him and wants to hate him, but when he rather makes his bid for freedom, one is somehow rooting for him.

Nothing happened to me, Officer Starling. I happened. You can’t reduce me to a set of influences. You’ve given up good and evil for behaviorism, Officer Starling. You’ve got everybody in moral dignity pants—nothing is ever anybody’s fault. (Ch.3, p.21)

One can’t help feeling that the book is really Hannibal Lecter’s show and not Buffalo Bill who is on the loose. It’s through Hannibal Lecter’s beautiful mind and insights that eventually lead Starling to Buffalo Bill, who is, literally, making a girl suit out of real girls. It takes a psychopath to know one, as Lecter demonstrates how accurately he anticipates Buffalo Bill’s next move.

The Silence of the Lambs is a finely crafted thriller, and there is a relishing, bard-bitten quality to Harris’s prose. The beauty of his writing lies in his deep understanding of his character’s psyches. He understands who they are and what they want from each other. Lecter still stands as one of the most complex and layered characters in suspense fiction. As it’s usually the case for memorable encounters, it leaves reader feeling that all stars aligned for this strong, unflinching and trusting young woman to have met this brilliant, but sadistic mind, desperately seeking for something unique. This deep, complicated bond is what compellingly turns the pages.

367 pp. St. Martin. Pocket Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]

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3 Responses

  1. Well, I’ve seen the movie no fewer than 20 times, maybe more. We LOVE this movie…truly a horror classic. I’ve also read it, plus some others…Red Dragon, Hannibal Rising (which was horrible), and maybe one more, I’m not sure. Red Dragon was good, but this one is the best! Such insanely evil characters!

  2. I’ve read the other books that came later, but not this one. Of course, the movie is horrifying. I’ve watched it so many times though. And you read this in Thailand. Tough life ;)

  3. For some odd reason I have never wanted to read this one. Maybe it’s because I love a pure mystery, more than I do a thriller. If I ever do it read, it will be because of your review.

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