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I had to do a double take when walking past Waterstones shortly before Christmas. A new Hannibal Lecter novel? I'd had no idea! Normally I object to paying out for hardback novels however Waterstones were offering the book at half price (normally 17.99) and I had adored all the books in the Hannibal Lecter trilogy (films too). The book is A5 size with a sleek black cover and embossed gold lettering. The small picture in the centre of the front cover of a moon and a heron is in fact a reference to a poem contained within the book although obviously this isn't something I knew when I first picked it up. To start with I thought I had quite a read ahead of me but on opening it up to begin I realised that the font was quite large and the margins rather generous.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Thomas Harris was born in 1940 in Jackson, Tennessee. He attended Baylor University in Texas to study for an English Major whilst working as a reporter for News Tribune in the evenings. Harris had several macabre stories published in various magazines before and after his graduation but it was his work as a reporter in New York between 1968 and 1974 that gave him the insight into crime that would later prove invaluable in creating one of the world's most famous fictitious characters, Hannibal Lecter.
Harris started his career as a novelist with his début novel "Black Sunday" in 1975. Despite receiving mixed reviews the book became a best seller and went on to become a film. The journalist in him spurred him on to thoroughly research his next novel, "Red Dragon", before finally publishing it in 1981. Red Dragon quickly became a film and encouraged Harris to continue evolving it's central character, Hannibal Lecter. 1988 saw "The Silence of the Lambs" hit our bookshelves followed by "Hannibal" in 1999.
THE STORY SO FAR
In Red Dragon we encountered Hannibal Lecter in the capacity of a detained psychotic serial killer who had become famous for eating his victims. It had been FBI agent Will Graham who'd finally detained Lecter and it was because Lecter was the only criminal to have ever fooled and nearly killed him that Graham turned to Lecter when a dangerous serial killer appeared to be beyond apprehension. Lecter agreed to help in return for privileges in his dingy, underground cell. He had all of us fooled though and we eventually learned that Lecter was contacting the serial killer through coded newspaper adverts to try to manipulate him into murdering Graham. The lesson "never trust a psychotic cannibal" hadn't been learnt when Clarice Starling showed up in "The Silence of the Lambs". Another unapprehendable serial killer is on the loose and short of buying Lecter's criminology knowledge which happens to be superior to all but retired Will Graham's, Clarice feels there was no other way to track their man down. It later transpired that the reason Hannibal had agreed to help was in order to forge an escape plan - that proved successful. "Hannibal" sees Lecter on the run and enjoying the finer things in life that he'd so missed whilst incarcerated in a psychiatric prison for so many years. As Clarice reappears in an attempt to apprehend Hannibal, we learn more of just how messed up our man really is.
Besides a world-famous, sociopathic, cannibalistic, serial killing genius; just who is Hannibal Lecter? Well once upon a time he was a baby just like you and I once were. He spent his early years happily exploring the world around him in the company of his wealthy, aristocratic family in Lecter Castle. Lecter's family had to flee their family home during the second world war and were quickly captured and brutally murdered. Only Hannibal and his little sister Mischa (who fans may remember mentioned towards the end of "Hannibal") survived the horrific bloodbath. During the course of their imprisonment, Hannibal witnesses a brutal act involving cannibalism that goes on to fuel his own tendencies in later life. As the war comes to an end we find Hannibal has been taken into an orphanage under unusual circumstances that it's only natural he feels humiliated by.
Harris takes us through Hannibal's early life in a frank and informative manner that leaves us to draw our own conclusions. Personally I could not find much compassion in my heart for Hannibal considering that Harris makes it clear that the grounding for Hannibal's evil character is there from an early age; however I can see thousands of fans finding sympathy in their hearts for the monster he later became partially as a result of the abuse he is subjected to at such a young age. From a psychological point of view, it's interesting for the reader to contemplate upon whether or not it is circumstances alone that turn good people into evil ones. Although Hannibal Lecter is a fictitious character, he is based on a great and thorough amount of research by Harris and much consideration has been given to relaying a realistic and in-depth psychological profile on Lecter.
Hannibal becomes more and more of a problematic outsider at the orphanage and is eventually taken to live with his Uncle Robert and his exotic wife Lady Murasaki. When Uncle Robert dies, Hannibal finds himself alone with the beautiful Lady Murasaki. For all her gentle character and poetic nature, Lady Murasaki only serves to spur Hannibal on to commit his first murder in her honour. Though she does not condone his behaviour, she protects him nevertheless. The love Hannibal received from Lady Murasaki could have saved his sole; instead Hannibal allowed it to be his downfall and before long Hannibal finds himself studying medicine in Paris and seeking revenge in honour of the only other person he ever loved.
Hannibal Rising incorporates horror, suspense, psychology and history into a unique novel that will capture the imaginations of Hannibal Lecter fans everywhere. For those who aren't familiar with Hannibal Lecter then I see no real reason why you couldn't start with this book, which afterall is technically the beginning. But personally I would recommend reading the books in the order they were written. Learning about Hannibal Lecter is what's kept the series so popular even after all these years (that and the smash hit films of course). The suspense and the desire to uncover the many secrets referred to about Lecter throughout is a major factor in fuelling the reader's journey; learning everything there is to know about Hannibal from this fourth book will only serve to ruin the first three for you in my opinion.
DID I LIKE IT?
I couldn't make up my mind at first. To begin with I actually felt a little disappointed because the true horror of what Hannibal had been through in the early chapters hadn't really sunk in. Harris writes in such a factual and informative manner, possibly due to his previous career as a journalist, that it's hard to feel anything much about what you're reading. Harris shies away from emotive adjectives favouring descriptive ones instead. But as I persevered and became more and more absorbed in the story my mind began to wander and I soon realised that actually I was in awe of just how amazing a creation Hannibal Lecter really is. I finished this book in the bath, my favourite place to read, and I found myself laying there for at least an hour running over the events that had just taken place in my mind. If Harris set out to open people's minds to the various possibilities as to what makes a monster then he's well and truly succeeded here.
If I had to review this masterpiece in just one word, I'd choose "stimulating".