By Thomas Harris
Author Thomas Harris ends his Hannibal Lecter series by taking us back to the beginning. The results are perhaps less than stellar, but not terrible by any means.
Lecter is a young man for the vast majority of this novel, studying medicine by day and seeking revenge against the war criminals that murdered and ate his baby sister when he was just a young buck. Through it all, he attempts to stay ahead of an intrepid police investigator and stay in the good graces of his Japanese aunt/adoptive stepmother/love interest.
The novel starts off very rough, with sketchy and fragmented scenes that are over before you realize they've even begun. It is later discovered that this is because Hannibal's memories of these events are fragmented, and they are fleshed out in more satisfying detail a bit later. Getting through the opening chapters was difficult, though, and took more than one sitting.
Were this a standalone novel of Post-WWII revenge, it would have been a much better work, but as an entry in the Hannibal Lecter series, it just seems rushed and inconsistent. Of course, if it wasn't an entry in the Hannibal Lecter series, most people wouldn't have read it.
We witness Hannibal's introduction to his "memory palace", which is supposed to be a big deal, I guess, but I find the whole concept to be nonsense, anyway. We witness the full events hinted at in Hannibal, where baby Mischa is hauled away by hungry soldiers. We witness Hannibal's first murder, and his first consumption of human flesh.
We witness a lot of things here, but the pieces still don't add up to a conclusive whole. Vengeance is a credible motivation for itself, but I find it difficult to believe that it would be a terrifying serial killer and cannibal's origin--I mean, killing the men who ate your sister is one thing, but that still doesn't explain how that evolves into killing an orchestra musician because he simply wasn't good at his job. It's not as if his reign of vengeance simply drove him mad--despite his being institutionalized, Lecter never came across as insane. That's what makes him such a frightening character. He is in full control of himself and his faculties in any given situation.
I found it odd that never once was Hannibal's extra finger mentioned here, just as it was never mentioned in Red Dragon. It's almost as if it spontaneously sprouted at some point between Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs. It also seemed strange that Lecter's first love, the beautiful and ageless Lady Murasaki, had never been mentioned in any of the other books. She was responsible for much of his development, and his appreciation of the finer things, but she was never even hinted at before.
It's an unsatisfying beginning to a saga, and an unsatisfying ending to a series. My advice is to cross out every mention of Hannibal Lecter, replace it with another name--say, Portnoy Goldberg--and judge it by its own merits...whatever they may be.