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Tuesday, 13 November 2012

The Silence of the Lambs, by Thomas Harris, Reviewed.

Everybody has, of course, heard of this modern crime classic. Many people have seen the film. I’m not one of them. Intrigued by the many references to the book, when I stumbled upon it in the charity bin of a local Co-op, I made my donation and brought a copy home.
At last, I’ve got around to actually reading it, and I’m glad I have.

For me, fiction is made real and compulsive by the quality of its characters. I mean by that not the natures of the people themselves but the depth and detail gifted them by the author. The story is important, of course, but I find I’m unable to enter a fictional world if I don’t care about at least one of the primary characters. There was no such difficulty with this book. Crawford is easy to empathise with, in spite of his hard-nosed sheath of self-protective toughness. Dr Lecter is, of course, become the archetypal sociopath; a man more concerned with demonstrating and playing with his intellect than he is with any emotional connection. He is the epitome of the unfeeling genius. And in Starling we have the caring, clever, resourceful, courageous, insightful and strong young woman we can all so easily love. Chilton, of course, is the selfish, cunning and sly man who everyone can as easily hate. And the antagonist, who I won’t name for those few who have yet to come across this excellent work, is a superbly drawn piece of human detritus mostly formed from his history but choosing the path upon which he has set out destructively and without concern for any but himself. The woman we encounter as his final victim is anything but a stereotype, displaying courage, resourcefulness and a strength of character that has the reader desperately urging the authorities to get to her before it’s too late.
Clarice Starling
Clarice Starling (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had no idea what the story was really about and was surprised to find it dealt with the hunt for a serial killer in quite the way it does. I’d more or less expected to find a police procedural with little reference to emotion or justice. That the book transcends its genre is clear almost from the first page. I confess to some irritation with the US crime fighters’ jargon that peppers some pages and leaves a UK reader, unfamiliar with police procedures, somewhat confused. But the fact that such a stumbling block never even came close to stopping me read is testament to the power of the story and the characters who drive it.

The denouement is expertly handled. Indeed, I deliberately put off finishing the book at night for fear of having nightmares if I went to sleep on the ending. Read in my lunch hour, the final chapters were no less powerful, the ending no less satisfying than that late night read may have rendered them. The book finishes in the only way it can. A satisfactory conclusion to a tale of pace, incident and superbly engineered personal interrelationships.

I enjoyed this book more than I expected to. Should I now watch the film? Will I be disappointed? I don’t know. But the book is definitely worth the read and I can thoroughly recommend it.

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