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Hannibal by Thomas Harris

What can I say? Along with everyone else, I waited for what was surely one of the most anticipated books of the decade. With the new novel, we would learn what happened to Hannibal Lecter, who left us at the end of Silence Of The Lambs rich with questions about this deliciously awful character. Sure, he's a cannibal, but he only eats the really rude, right?

Never have I parted with the near $30 for a hardcover book more eagerly. I held it in my hands with reverence. I read it slowly, savoring the words.

I heard critics say they hated that with this novel Harris slightly humanized this supervillain by giving us cause for his aberrant behavior- childhood trauma, naturally. I liked knowing the early story, and thought it left intact Lecter's larger-than-life status.

For the first 429 pages of Hannibal, I had one thought in mind-this was worth the wait, a deeply escapist, satisfyingly evil, guilty reading pleasure. Our understanding of Lecter is enhanced by additional information, while he remains consistently intriguing. The seven years since Silence left off are apparent in Starling's lost innocence and callused maturity. In this, our third visit with Lecter, Harris's characters seemed, if possible, even better than before.

Then came those damnable final 38 pages. I wanted to ask, "What happened?" It was as if Harris got tired of the project and handed it off to a group of salacious 12 year olds, after their 30th viewing of Porky's, and said, "How would YOU like this thing to end?" Those last pages resemble something one might find on a juvenile Web site parodying the Lecter and Starling characters. After nearly 20 years with these characters, we felt we knew them. Starling would have to have had a brain transplant to behave as Harris depicts her here.

Our relationship with Hannibal Lecter is of long standing. We first met him in Harris's Red Dragon back in 1981, and gladly became hooked on this mesmerizing man. The film, Manhunter, which was based on the book, successfully brought Lecter to chilling life on the screen. We had to wait eight years to meet him again in the wonderful, Silence Of The Lambs, which introduced us to FBI novice, Clarice Starling, whom we also placed immediately in our catalog of unforgettable characters. Again, the movie that followed did even more credit to Harris work, with Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins bringing Starling and Lecter into ever-greater clarity. After two decades, we feel we know these people. We appreciate growth as characters, but not their disappearance.

The jacket notes on Hannibal brag that with this book, Harris, "permanently alters the world you thought you knew." He certainly does, and we bid it a reluctant farewell.

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