Hannibal by Thomas Harris

detail from ancient carving: dragon swallowing a man
The dragon has a mouthful.

Thomas Harris’s Hannibal is a Stephen King-like thriller without any supernatural effects.

The story opens with FBI agent Clarice Starling being suspended for an attempted drug arrest that resulted in five deaths, including that of a woman holding a baby, all captured by a TV crew tipped off by insiders.

While she’s suspended, Starling gets a letter from murderer Dr. Hannibal Leeter, who she interviewed in a hospital for the criminally insane before his escape seven years earlier. He’s never been found.

Starling begins looking for Hannibal, whose gruesome killings are at odd with his expensive tastes in food, wines, and the fine arts.

Unknown to her, Hannibal’s sixth victim, the only one who survived, is also looking for him. Mason Verger, head of a meatpacking empire, wants to see Hannibal suffer—literally—for turning him into an invalid. His body-builder sister has her own agenda that will require her brother’s presence for only a few minutes.

While Sterling’s investigation is being sabotaged by political considerations and male egos, Hannibal is pleasantly employed as a museum curator in Italy, under the name Dr. Fell.

Just when readers wonder how all these multiple threads will ever be resolved, Harris pulls out a surprising yet perfectly prepared final chapter.

Hannibal by Thomas Harris
Delacorte. ©1999. 486 p.
1999 bestseller #2; my grade: A-

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

The Lovely Ambition Is a Lovely Novel

At the turn of the century, Wesleyan pastor John Tillyard, his wife and their  three children emigrate from their rural England home to Pepperell, Maine.  They bring little with them but their love, good sense,  and John’s copy of Walden.

John’s faith is primarily in the goodness of people, his religion not overly concerned with liturgy and theology. The Tillyards are just good people.

Thanks to the housekeeper who comes with the Methodist parsonage, the family settles into with relative ease. When John is given five dollars for a Memorial Day speech, Hilda insists her husband use it to visit Walden Pond.

On the trip, he meets the administrator of the state asylum and is invited to become its chaplain. John becomes convinced some of the residents are lonely rather than insane. He invites them to stay in the family home. Mrs. Gowan becomes a family and community favorite.

Mary Ellen Chase lets the family’s younger daughter narrate the story, which gives the novel the intimacy of memoir. The move from Old England to New England makes description of the two settings natural and vivid.

The result is a warm, homey novel as comfortable as overstuffed armchairs and flowered chintz.

The Lovely Ambition
By Mary Ellen Chase
W.W. Norton, 1960
288 pages
My grade A-
© 2010 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Anatomy of a Murder Is a Keeper

Robert Traver’s Anatomy of a Murder is courtroom drama at its best.

Lieutenant Frederic Manion shot Barney Quill to death in front of a room full of witnesses in Quill’s hotel bar before turning himself in. Manion says Quill had raped his wife.

Paul “Polly” Biegler dislikes Manion on sight, but since he lost his bid for re-election as county prosecutor, he needs income, and Manion needs a lawyer. Polly gets his secretary and an aging, alcoholic lawyer to help him defend Manion.

The only legal defense open to Manion is insanity.

At the trial, the novice prosecuting attorney is “assisted” by a savvy lawyer from the Attorney General’s office. It’s a fight to the finish—with the real excitement coming after the verdict.

Polly is an unlikely hero. Gentle, middle-aged, and funny, he pursues wily trout instead of luscious babes and remembers (sometimes) to water his mother’s plants while she’s away.

Anatomy of a Murder has mystery, courtroom drama, humor, a sprinkle of romance, and a generous helping of memorable personalities. Despite the passage of a half century, the story still rings true except for one thing: it’s impossible to imagine a murder case going to trial today in less than three months.

Anatomy of a Murder
by Robert Traver
St. Martin’s 1958
437 pages
Bestseller #2 for 1958
My grade: B+
© 2007 Linda Gorton Aragoni