Thomas Harris — The Silence of the Lambs

Reading this is nothing new but it’s still as spine-tingling as it was when it was first published. Thomas Harris might not be a world-class author but he definitely knows how to create some memorable characters.

The plot of The Silence of the Lambs is so well known by now (thanks partially to the excellent movie adaptation) that it almost doesn’t seem worth it to outline. A serial killer known as Buffalo Bill is hunting young women. Dr. Hannibal Lecter, a famous cannibal psychiatrist, is trapped in a secure mental institution with the loathsome Dr. Chilton. Jack Crawford is an FBI agent attempting to hunt down Buffalo Bill before he can kill his next victim, and his protege Clarice Starling might be the key to getting Lecter to talk, giving them some information they can use to catch the killer.

Again, Harris’ writing isn’t anything special. The prose is serviceable occasionally evocative, but mostly form follows function here. What is special are the characters. Obviously there are few villains quite so well-known as Dr. Lecter, and for good reason–he’s a chillingly creepy creation, a cultured, urbane aesthete who can also rip your face off as quickly as you get within range. But it’s Clarice Starling that really made me appreciate this book the first time I read it–she’s a pretty fantastic creation as well, a a believable male-written female law enforcement agent (sadly rare). But her combination of bravery, smarts, and caring make her an appealing, sympathetic protagonist.

The psychology of the profilers is meticulously researched and maybe stretching belief a little bit, but it works in the context of the story. A classic thriller for good reason.

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