Saturday, March 30, 2013

Book Review: Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris

Silence of the Lambs
SILENCE OF THE LAMBS by Thomas Harris - Book cover
By Thomas Harris

Published seven years after Red Dragon, Silence of the Lambs brings us a new protagonist in the form of Clarice Starling, a cadet in the FBI Academy. She is dispatched by lead profiler Jack Crawford (returning from the previous novel) to ask Hannibal Lecter to fill out a questionnaire that will aid in future profiling--though there may be deeper motivations.

During the interview process, Lecter lets loose a few clues about Buffalo Bill, the serial killer currently kidnapping, killing and imprisoning women. Clarice, though not a full fledged agent, is placed on the case and put in charge of following up on the tips that Lecter gives...though he offers nothing without a price.

The investigation steps up when the daughter of a United States Senator is kidnapped, and the FBI have to find her alive or else catch all kinds of holy hell.

Clarice Starling is something of the antithesis of Will Graham, our hero from Red Dragon. Whereas Graham was experienced and jaded, his whole life shattered by the evil he has seen, Starling is young and naive in many ways, still in training, looking to make a name for herself in the Bureau. Graham already had that name, and he was trying desperately to run from it.

Graham does not appear in this book at all, though he is mentioned on more than one occasion. You get the feeling that things were not all roses and rainbows after the finale of Red Dragon.

Buffalo Bill is a truly sick and disturbing individual, certainly inspired in part by Ed Gein (who also inspired Leatherface and Norman Bates, among others). His portrayal as a sexually confused crossdresser making a lady suit out of human skins is probably, especially these days, offensive to certain organizations and orientations. It's easy to understand at first glance, but at the same time Harris isn't trying to make Buffalo Bill a spokesman for any cause, or saying that he represents the normalcy of any community or lifestyle. He is an aberration, and those exist in all walks of life. The Red Dragon was a straight male, but a horrible and murderous example of one. Buffalo Bill is the same.

Hannibal Lecter is a much more prevalent character this time around, which is a definite plus.

Harris's writing style has evolved a bit at this point, occasionally wandering toward the more poetic. He also seems to rely on coincidence a bit too often here, which although surely happens in real life, used too much it can strain believability a bit. There were a few discrepancies between Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs, too, such as the name of the hospital Lecter is kept in, and the fact that he suddenly has six fingers on one hand (something never mentioned in Red Dragon, if I'm not mistaken).

I did find that I enjoyed Red Dragon significantly more than Silence of the Lambs (probably not the popular opinion), although I was still thoroughly entertained throughout the book. There are elements present here that were not seen in the film version, so don't let familiarity with the story keep you from reading the source material.

Definitely recommended, hipsters!


  1. Fantastic review. You know, I'm with you on having enjoyed Red Dragon more than Silence of the Lambs. In fact, I've read Red Dragon several times, whereas I've only read Silence of the Lambs once (though I may give it another read soon now that you've brought it back to my attention). All that said, when it comes to the movies I like Silence better than both the Dragon ones, probably because it scared me to death when I saw it in grade school.

  2. Great summation, J-bro. For my part, I think the genius of this book IS Clarice Starling, actually. Repeat use of good guy characters tends to lend itself to a shallow old, and I feel that if Harris had just gone with Graham as the protagonist again, it might have seemed too "noir-ish", with Graham as the typical hard-bitten copper on a mission, etc. Starling's inexperience & idealistic determination, and her subsequent loss of those qualities, is what makes the story of interplay with Lecter and her final showdown with Buffalo Bill so exciting and different than your usual serial killer cop show.

  3. Even though it has a few differences with the film, the book and the film are pretty much the same thing, i remember going half way through the book and feeling like I was watching the movie in my mind. I too liked Red Dragon more, I even liked it more than the film. And finally, Hannibal is also an awesome book, waaaay better than the movie which I still liked. But the book had so much more balls to it, highly recommend it if you haven't seen it. After reading it you feel as if the movie didn't do it justice.

  4. William: I'm with you. I prefer RED DRAGON the book over SILENCE OF THE LAMBS the book, but prefer SILENCE OF THE LAMBS the movie over RED DRAGON the movie. At least that's the way I remember it. I'll be revisiting all four films in a marathon viewing after I finish reading all the books, so we shall see...

    Brother J: I didn't mean to imply that I don't appreciate the character of Clarice Starling--I certainly do. I was just trying to convey the differences between protagonists that Harris used, almost as if he intentionally took a 180. Basically, I think the reason I prefer RED DRAGON to SILENCE OF THE LAMBS has more to do with the antagonist than with the protagonist. I just found the Tooth Fairy/Red Dragon to be a much more complex and interesting villain.

    Francisco: Just finished reading HANNIBAL, and it was balls-to-the-wall crazy (review coming soon). It's been a while since I saw the film, but as stated above, that will change soon. I'm not sure that I enjoyed HANNIBAL as much as you did, but I hope you'll swing by again and check out what I have to say about it.

    Thanks for stopping by, everybody!


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