Hannibal The Cannibal

Lecter's out. Can Starling find him before it's too late?

A bare outline of the plot:

Clarice Starling at thirty-two is seven years older than when we last saw her in the prequel "The Silence Of The Lambs", also by Harris. Now a seasoned Special Agent of the FBI, her rookie days long behind her, she's earned the reputation of being "fast and careful with her gun", smart, resourceful, determined and a fighter who speaks her mind, undaunted by figures of authority.

A disastrous shootout at Feliciana Fish Market, in Washington D.C. between drug-peddler Evelda Drumgo and Starling which results in the death of several co-officers, puts Starling in the eye of the storm whipped up by the news channels and papers, which refer to her as the FBI's "Death Agent". But, just as she is about to face a grueling inquisition from her superiors, a phone call from one of Mason Verger's pawns sets her free.

And who is Mason Verger? The man is a tycoon in the meatpacking industry, with a couple of politicians in his pocket and a personal vendetta against Dr. Hannibal Lecter, who has reduced him to a state where he can live out each day only by being hooked up to a lot of expensive and elaborate medical equipment. Verger needs Starling to verify the authenticity of an X-ray he has received from one of his bounty-hunters, supposedly of Lecter's hand. Starling proceeds to dig out Lecter's medical reports and a positive match is established.

Cut, and move to Florence where Chief Investigator Rinaldo Pazzi of the Italian Questura, suspects the curator of the Palazzo Capponi to be Dr. Lecter - a man believed by some to be dead. His suspicion is confirmed, and despite an elaborate attempt on his part, he's unsuccessful in trapping the invincible Lecter and is murdered. Dr. Lecter's existence triggers Starling's detective instincts and in order to catch this noted psychologist-turned-cannibal, she starts concentrating on his elaborate tastes in music, food, wine and books and devises a system whereby she can access customer information for every purchase made at stores that sell high-quality, expensive items.

Lecter arrives in Washington D.C., and ever-obsessed with Starling, follows her around, killing a deer-hunter named Donnie Barber in his free time. The climax commences on Starling's birthday, at a car park. She sees Lecter being kidnapped by Mason's goons and decides to save the one man who has had some significance in her life. So, off she goes to Muskrat Farm, Verger's residence, and after a bit of point blank shooting at the enemy, she rescues the "dottore". In the getaway, however, she takes two fatal shots that render her unconscious.

Once again, the elusive Dr. Hannibal Lecter escapes the hands of his adversaries and settles down to a peaceful life in Buenos Aires. Starling too, survives.

Now, a little about Harris's writing, since the techniques he employs are interesting. The style and structure of "Hannibal", a 544-page novel that is divided into six books, resembles that of a movie script. A few of the total of a hundred and three chapters are as short as half a page and the action and dialogue in them would constitute a single scene if the book were being made into a movie. At the beginning of each chapter, the first line always tells us where the action is taking place - thus helping us get our bearings. His descriptions are like stage directions, and the precision of place and movement in the narration of incidents makes us feel as though Harris himself were the eye of a camera. This style, heavy as it is on evoking images, coupled with the short chapters helps the reader picture a lot of the story in his mind, and the novel moves at a fast pace.

The characters are sketchy, functional things that live according to the dictates of a rather authoritarian, omniscient narrator. Towards us, the narrator is friendly, often addressing us directly and leading us by hand to the character under discussion. Just as the story flits from Washington D.C. to Florence and back, so also, Harris flits between past and present tenses, very often changing them in the middle of a paragraph. This technique conveys to us the immediacy and importance of the emotion or situation that his characters experience or find themselves in.

Harris ties up all the ends neatly, but the conclusion may dissatisfy some. Also, the author is rather graphic in his many descriptions of murders, dead bodies and torture - these may satisfy the morbid curiosities of some, but may disgust others. The writer can be said to have developed previously-introduced characters in an intelligent manner. A credible congruency is kept up between their fictional past and present, and they fuse, as though he had written the two books in quick succession, one after the other. Towards the end, one is pretty well-acquainted with the streets of Italy and D.C. as well as the backbiting and politics within the FBI.

The endnote - a gripping movie...I mean, book.

This article was first published on 03 Aug 2000.