Have read every single book1 written by the man who began his writing career covering crime in the United States and Mexico as a reporter and editor for the Associated Press in New York City, Thomas Harris. Like last week, I thought to re-do his most successful work again. Simple enough, I guess. But instead re-evaluate them as a series, in audiobook form. Doing them in succession, rather than piecemeal, being they were published across three decades.
Inasmuch that I seem to have a serial killer vibe going this month for Halloween, and to conclude our duo post series for 2015, made some sense to stay on that bent. Then I thought of what I was taking on. The four novels that put the character of Hannibal Lecter on the map and into the minds of God knows how many readers and movie enthusiasts. Ending with what I consider the weakest segment, and my least favorite, “Hannibal Rising.” Uh-oh…not that.
Purist might take offense to me dropping it, what with the quartet giving the fullest examination to the author’s seminal character of popular literature in print. Just couldn’t do it, especially in audiobook. The prequel, done purely by the author out of fear the movie studio (producer Dino De Laurentiis wishing to add another in his film franchise) would do it inevitably without his involvement. Bad enough, then Harris performed the reading himself.
Can’t pay me enough to do that again, sorry.
Arguably, the original “trilogy” is what made his most famous creation, the psychiatrist-serial-killer Dr. Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter so intriguing and effective with today’s pop culture. Read friend and author John Kenneth Muir’s keen thoughts on the subject, if you don’t believe me. A few friends I know have done movie marathons of the respective three film adaptations…four if you count Brett Ratner’s “Red Dragon”…a few times over.
“Red Dragon”, “The Silence of the Lambs”, and “Hannibal” in a row was what I imposed on my audiobook stack. Unsurprisingly, given the time in-between each publication, there’s no continuity regarding the key narrator role in each audio production. Then again, each novel had different casts and lead arrangements; only Lecter, Agent-in-Charge Jack Crawford, and orderly Barney Matthews span all three to any real degree. So, the series’ dissimilar trio of readers not as disruptive as first presumed.
What I surmised and then concluded by re-reading…er, listening to…them, pure chance coming along with a novel to replace that deficient prequel by strange happenstance, the scope of this literary lark of mine.
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Read by: Alan Sklar
Length: 12 hours and 6 minutes
Synopsis: “A quiet summer night…a neat suburban house…and another innocent, happy family is shattered — the latest victims of a grisly series of hideous sacrificial killings that no one understands, and no one can stop. Nobody lives to tell of the unimaginable carnage. Only the blood-stained walls bear witness.
All hope rests on Special Agent Will Graham, who must peer inside the killer’s tortured soul to understand his rage, to anticipate and prevent his next vicious crime. Desperate for help, Graham finds himself locked in a deadly alliance with the brilliant Dr. Hannibal Lecter, the infamous mass murderer who Graham put in prison years ago.
As the imprisoned Lecter tightens the reins of revenge, Graham’s feverish pursuit of the Red Dragon draws him inside the warped mind of a psychopath, into an unforgettable world of demonic ritual and violence, beyond the limits of human terror.”
Whether reading or listening to probably the game-changing crime procedural involving serial killers, it’s still a ferociously captivating experience. Capturing what was up to then the unknown behavioral based investigative side to time-sensitive violent crimes, typically involving serial murder, by the FBI. Deploying a deep-voiced narrator like Alan Sklar gave a seriousness to the fascinating technical aspects presented as hadn’t before been done.
His professional verbalization, certainly masculine, worked in the reader’s favor, expressly illuminating the thoughts of the scarred Will Graham once again confronting the singular personas of Hannibal Lecter and Francis “the tooth-fairy” Dollarhyde during the course of his investigation. Less so when the few women characters of book took stage. Still, right up to that devastating ending both film adaptations shied away from, this audiobook delivered. In spades.
The production could easily have faltered Harris’ momentous introduction of the technical material and his distinctly dark characters, but thankfully avoided that with a solid production. The choice of narrator no doubt helped with the book’s mostly male cast as he interpreted the tale across readers’ ears, deep into their heads. While it’s the driest reading in the Harris-Lecter audiobook trilogy, you could do much worse. Excerpt below from Audible.com.
The Silence of the Lambs
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Read by: Frank Muller
Length: 10 hours and 44 minutes
Synopsis: “A serial murderer known only by a grotesquely apt nickname — Buffalo Bill — is stalking women. He has a purpose, but no one can fathom it, for the bodies are discovered in different states. Clarice Starling, a young trainee at the FBI Academy, is surprised to be summoned by Jack Crawford, chief of the Bureau’s Behavioral Science section. Her assignment: to interview Dr. Hannibal Lecter – Hannibal the Cannibal – who is kept under close watch in the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane.
Dr. Lecter is a former psychiatrist with a grisly history, unusual tastes, and an intense curiosity about the darker corners of the mind. His intimate understanding of the killer and of Clarice herself form the core of Thomas Harris’ The Silence of the Lambs – and ingenious, masterfully written book and an unforgettable classic of suspense fiction.”
Unquestionably, this was Thomas Harris’ high-water mark in his too short bibliography. I’d doubts going in that dropping the likes of Will Graham as a foil to Hannibal Lecter for a young FBI trainee, Clarice Starling, would work. Proved so very wrong I’m thankful to admit. Perhaps the substance may not have been as fierce as ‘Red Dragon’s inception, it was obviously no less predatory a read, even on revisit. Indeed I daresay if you’ve only seen the movie, the source novel will still surprise.
Perhaps studio managers knew they had something special here, and lined up one of the all-time best in the business for this. The late-Frank Muller2, one of the voice legends in audiobooks, lent his pipes to the endeavor. The best match of material-to-reader in this audiobook trio, without question, in my opinion. Especially so for the job of giving Lecter his due on audio, and conveying the wonderful Starling life, though a male was performing the explication.
Granted, your mileage may vary. Indeed, if you’re a woman listener, it might not work as well, even though Muller’s differential reading jibed for me. If there was a chance for a female narrator to take the reins in this series, this was the novel for that switchover. Indeed, actress Kathy Bates performed the abridged reading and proved she could deftly handle both male and female identities, not skipping a beat in the process. Frank Muller’s excerpt below from Audible.com.
Publisher: Random House
Length: 12 hours and 37 minutes
Synopsis: “Seven years have passed since Dr. Hannibal Lecter escaped from custody, seven years since FBI Special Agent Clarice Starling interviewed him in a maximum security hospital for the criminally insane. The doctor is still at large, pursuing his own ineffable interests, savoring the scents, the essences of an unguarded world. But Starling has never forgotten her encounters with Dr. Lecter, and the metallic rasp of his seldom-used voice still sounds in her dreams.
Mason Verger remembers Dr. Lecter, too, and is obsessed with revenge. He was Dr. Lecter’s sixth victim, and he has survived to rule his own butcher’s empire. From his respirator, Verger monitors every twitch in his worldwide web. Soon he sees that to draw the doctor, he must have the most exquisite and innocent-appearing bait; he must have what Dr. Lecter likes best.”
Easily, the most controversial work in this set involved the one where Hannibal Lecter finally took center stage. No more supporting roles, compelling as they were in each of the first two novels, and in the process Thomas Harris changed his address. Literally and figuratively. From captive to free man, if but on the run from various authorities. From villainous figure and into the antihero role, with leading lady Clarice left to deal with the venal and wicked as her penal reward.
Interestingly, British actor Daniel Gerroll’s narration of the novel immediately involved Starling, and was initially jarring. So contrary to how Muller had elucidated her previously. May not work for all listeners. Then again, the author had not a young woman trainee on the spot here, but an adult Clarice. Now a somewhat weary, disillusioned FBI vet — the one who didn’t get the call to hunt down Lecter. Ultimately then, Gerroll’s vocalization worked decently once you got used to it.
Also unforeseen, the reader’s skillful way with the various characters, European and American, the novel threw at those diving into what was thought the last in this journey. Accent-wise, listeners benefitted with Gerroll’s vocal dexterity, I think. He intoned a good deal with various dialects for what a few of us rank as an underappreciated work by Harris. Jodie Foster’s and Ridley Scott’s cinematic hesitations notwithstanding. The excerpt below from Audible.com3.
Series As A Whole
Thirty-six hours and three novels later, I look back on the series in a new light. For something that went in a totally different direction from his debut novel, I suspect the second intended nothing more than a one-off, another standalone, by the writer simply hoping for better, the books worked quite well as a series. Nothing so much glares out on the scientific side to stagnate it (as other copycat novels seem to do). Benefitting from the composed, matter-of-fact manner Harris presented the material.
Quite a feat given technology changed markedly from the early ’80s to the late ’90s, a reflection of the relaxed pace Thomas Harris wrote that resulted in lengthy publication cycles for his books.
What stood out was the author refused to follow conventional thinking of the time with the crime procedural. Examine even his below par prequel, you’ll not get anything close to “mainstream” — though I wished he’d have kept Hannibal more up-his-sleeve than he did. As for the rest, at no time could the reader anticipate where the author would lead them, either. Consistently tripped up those who tried when a predicted “zig” got a WTF “zag” for their trouble. Why it stands up to re-reads to this day.
If nothing else, how Thomas Harris got us to care about people we thought never to meet was remarkable. Moved his players across an unexpected, painstakingly constructed chess board. As he did, painted equally hellish and exotic landscapes, planting fiendish images into readers’ minds to bud. His success perhaps preordained by this and those who followed his lead. That being so, in the bargain he cut, bit, and otherwise bled those characters extraordinarily along the extended three-volume trek.
What the empathetic, if accursed, Will Graham would have intuited soon enough — Thomas Harris a talented author, but a more sublime sadist.
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Read by: Dick Hill
Length: 13 hours and 40 minutes
Synopsis: Jack Reacher, the wandering former military cop, faces a baffling puzzle: some exceptionally crafty serial killer is murdering women across the country. Leaving the naked bodies in their bathtubs (which are filled with army camouflage green paint), escaping unseen, and leaving no trace of evidence. The corpses show no cause of death, with Reacher as one of the very few connections. All victims thus far had been sexually harassed when they served in the military.
With nothing to sort out the grand scheme behind it all, FBI agents of the Behavioral Science Unit initially suspect Reacher, who handled each of the dead women’s harassment cases. After Reacher convinces investigators he’s innocent, they curiously ask him to stay on as a case consultant. Doesn’t like the idea, too much of a lone wolf, but he’s given little choice. Reacher joins the team and immediately attacks the feds’ approach, which is based solely on profiling.
He’ll have to break out on his own, pursuing enigmatic theories and hunches that lead him to a showdown with a truly surprising killer in a tiny village outside Portland, Oregon.
Reckoned it was just Kismet to pick up the fourth novel of Lee Child’s action-mystery series after I did the trilogy. His Jack Reacher, all 6 ft. 5 in, 250 lbs of muscle and intellect, the antithesis of those living and dying in the sardonic universe of Thomas Harris. Had absolutely no idea what I’d stumbled on to was Child’s literary response to that very world. Mainly, what Harris laid out for the Behavioral Science Unit of the FBI in general, and profiling, in particular.
Under Dick Hill’s now classic narration of the Reacher series, we meet up with counterparts from above. Or at least their Silence of the Lambs interpretations, coming up against the force-of-nature Child built, now twenty books deep (not counting short stories). Cleverly positioning his hero, the formidable ex-Army MP major, to present criticisms and counterarguments of “profiling” to solve crimes. Interesting to re-gleam the science behind it, only for another I enjoy to rend it asunder.
Your experience may be different, but whatever interference you draw, both book series are pure entertainment, and ultimately worth the time given them.
- His debut novel, 1975’s terrorist thriller “Black Sunday”, a modest hit book-wise that got a boost when it was optioned to Hollywood for a much more successful ’77 film adaptation by John Frankenheimer, has no connection whatsoever to Thomas Harris’ later books. ↩
- Frank Muller also performed a number of Stephen King works, notably his narration of Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. ↩
- Audible’s unabridged version has been criticized by fans for not including the last chapters of the book in audio, which happened to be the most contentious among readers and followers of the novels. Luckily, I had the original audiobook cassettes for this listen. ↩