Tag Archives: thriller

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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Tana French — In the Woods

What I warn you to remember is that I am a detective. Our relationship with the truth is fundamental, but cracked, refracting confusingly like fragmented glass. It is the core of our careers, the endgame of every move we make, and we pursue it with strategies painstakingly constructed of lies … and every variation on deception. The truth is the most desirable woman in the world and we are the most jealous lovers, reflexively denying anyone else the slightest glimpse of her. We betray her routinely … This is my job … What I am telling you, before you begin my story, is this–two things: I crave truth. And I lie.

Tana French was recommended to me by an earlier commenter on this blog and I’ve finally gotten around to checking it out.

This one grabbed me right from the beginning simply because of the way it was written: this is the detective novel that I’d been hunting for. A literary meditation on the game, in some part echoing my own fascination with homicide investigations. And it was really beautifully written, throughout: the characterization unique and believable, and the mystery tense and compelling. (Well, both mysteries, for there are two.)

Detective Adam Robert Ryan is assigned the case of a twelve year old girl murdered in Knocknaree, the death full of sinister portents and implications. More so because when he was twelve himself, he and his two friends went into the woods–and only Adam emerged, with no memory of what had occurred within them. With a new accent and going by his middle name, Detective Ryan lies so that he and his partner Cassie Maddox can investigate the death of little Katy Devlin, something that Ryan feels he NEEDS to do.

The book is gripping right up until the end. Though, frustratingly, not all of the ends are tied up. Certain mysteries still remained, and while I hope that one day French will return to Ryan’s story, I strangely didn’t mind that we didn’t get answers to everything. The journey there was enough for me. Especially with such lovely paragraphs:

I remember that moment because, if I am honest, I have them so seldom. I am not good at noticing when I’m happy, except in retrospect. My gift, or fatal flaw, is for nostalgia. I have sometimes been accused of demanding perfection, of rejecting heart’s desires as soon as I get close enough that the mysterious impressionistic gloss disperses into plain solid dots, but the truth is less simplistic than that. I know very well that perfection is made up of frayed, off-struck mundanities. I suppose you could say my real weakness is a kind of long-sightedness: usually it is only at a distance, and much too late, that I can see the pattern.

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