Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter are names that might not be unfamiliar to the average movie-lover. Made well-known by the 1991 movie adaptation of the book, these two characters are already a part of your pop-culture knowledge, even if you haven’t read the book by Thomas Harris, upon which the movie was based. It is difficult to read a book when you’ve seen its movie version — a well-made, “best movie of all time,” no less — and know the story that unfolds. But The Silence of the Lambs is a little better than your average paperback thriller.
Clarice Starling is a student at the FBI academy, about to graduate, when she is called by her superior (Jack Crawford) to help with speaking to Dr. Hannibal Lecter, a notorious murderer and brilliant psychiatrist, now in jail. Dr. Lecter’s expertise with the crooked human mind might help solve, Crawford believes, the mystery of “Buffalo Bill,” a serial killer who kidnaps women and skins them before he dumps them in rivers. On the one hand, Clarice has to successfully engage Dr. Lecter long enough for him to give her clues into the case, on the other, she has to balance her academic life and make sure she isn’t “recycled” at school. But the first taste of crime solving is sweet in Clarice’s mouth, and she getsinvolved deeper than she can help herself.
Harris’s writing is crisp and engrossing. Although, I find books with a lot of technical, scientific jargon difficult to read, the author makes it easy to understand and navigate through. The chapters are short and terse, keeping the pace of the novel rather brisk. Even if you know the killer’s identity (via the movie, or 3/4th of the way through the book), it does not hamper the novel’s progress. Clarice Starling is a wonderful protagonist – strong as a would-be FBI agent, sensitive as a woman with a troubled past. In Jack Crawford, she finds a worthy leader – a man with skeletons in his own closet. And what can be said about Dr. Hannibal Lecter? A more interesting antagonist may not be found in recent years. I hope I’m not the only one who kind of liked him and cheered for him. If I am, please don’t tell me.