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Thomas Harris remains both the progenitor of the modern serial killer novel – and its greatest exponent. Red Dragon was the first appearance of the murderous Hannibal Lecter, and with its success, the Harris imitators burgeoned almost immediately. The Silence of the Lambs, however, moved Harris into really rarefied heights, its achievement boltered by the addition of a strongly drawn heroine, trainee FBI agent Clarice Starling. Hannibal, the last outing for Harris’ monstrous Lecter, drew a more controversial response, with Clarice Sterling locked into a bizarre relationship with her cultivated predator, and it looked as if the next book would develop that grim scenario.
However, Hannibal Rising goes in a totally unexpected direction – in effect, it’s a prequel to the earlier books, returning to Lecter’s childhood in World War’s Eastern Front. The youthful Hannibal sees his family murdered by the Nazis. But something else happens which alters (and deforms) Hannibal’s psyche forever. The boy moves to Paris with the beautiful Japanese widow of his last surviving relative. And soon, an orgy of grisly revenge is in train, wrought on some opponents almost as nasty as Lecter is to become himself.
We’ve seen this before: Hannibal murdering people quite as ruthless as he is – whether this makes the operatic bloodshed satisfying is a matter for every individual reader. Whatever your stance, the effect of Harris’ prose is, as ever, utterly irresistible.
Hannibal Rising is comparatively uncomplicated, when set against the complex, richly textured Harris novels that came before it.
Is there a danger that in showing us how Hannibal became a monster, something is lost of his terrifying mystery? As if to deal with this possibility, Harris keeps Lecter unknowable by removing his customary articulate examination of this own motives (he is still a boy, after all). But the tale of bloody vengeance has a forward trajectory that (whatever your reservations) will render this is a one (or two) sitting reading. And the next book will, surely, recapture that richer Harris texture. --Barry Forshaw