Book Review – The Silence of the Lambs (Hannibal Lecter #2) by Thomas Harris

First published, 1988

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

The clever plots, fierce characters and grisly murders continue in this, the second Hannibal Lecter book. A serial killer, dubbed Buffalo Bill, has been killing and skinning large women, and dumping their bodies in waterways across the country, in no particular pattern, leaving a chrysalis of the Death’s Head moth in their throats.

With FBI trainee, Clarice Starling, brought in to talk to the infinitely knowledgeable but terrifying Dr. Lecter, the case takes on a new sense of urgency when a senator’s daughter goes missing. But will Clarice be able to move beyond her own childhood trauma to sift through Dr. Lecter’s clues and find Buffalo Bill? Or will Catherine Martin face the same appalling fate as those who came before her?

I knew this story fairly intimately before I picked up the book, as I must have watched the film a few dozen times. To the point that whenever I see Brooke Smith (who played Catherine Martin in the 1990 film) in anything, I affect an accent and ask, ‘Was she a great big fat person?’

Poor woman. She wasn’t even especially large. Anyway, in the book, as in the film, my heart dropped like a rock when Catherine offered to help the stranger with the sling get the armchair into his van.

Clarice is an amazing character. There’s a scene where Clarice is about to enter the abandoned storage container with the door stuck about a foot from the ground and she asks the lawyer to call the field office if she should get stuck. The fact that the dialogue matched precisely the forced chuckles and thinly veiled nervousness of Jodie Foster’s character in the film pleased me enormously.

In the film, Clarice is a bit of a goody-two-shoes. Nothing necessarily wrong in that. There’s only so much time in a film, and Jodie Foster’s performance is the stuff of celluloid legend. But I did like that, in the book, Clarice has a bit of a mouth on her. Her swearing is infrequent but human, and I think I liked her even more for that.

The dynamic between Clarice and Hannibal Lecter crackles from the page, and the creepiness of Dr. Chilton was stunning.

“‘We’ve had a lot of detectives here, but I can’t remember one so attractive,’ Chilton said without getting up.
“Starling knew without thinking about it that the shine on his extended hand was lanolin from patting his hair. She let go before he did.
“‘It’s Miss Sterling, isn’t it?’
Starling, Doctor, with an A. Thank you for your time.’
“‘So the FBI is going to the girls like everything else, ha, ha.’ He added the tobacco smile he uses to separate his sentences.
“‘The Bureau’s improving, Dr. Chilton. It certainly is.’”
p9, Chapter Two, The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris

Boom. Iconic.