by Pat BroeskeJune, 1999
Hannibal the Cannibal He debuted in print in 1981, as a scene-stealing supporting character in the nightmarish thriller Red Dragon (Dell, $7.50, 0440206154). Seven years later, Dr. Hannibal Lecter the former psychiatrist turned cannibalistic serial killer emerged as a star in his own right, as the mesmerizing antagonist of Silence of the Lambs (St. Martin's, $7.99, 0312924585; Simon ∧ Schuster Audio, $17, 0671673513). Now, more than a decade later, the publishing world is heralding his return. In Hannibal (Delacorte, $27.95, 038529929X; BDD Audio, unabridged, $39.95, 0553502441), Thomas Harris's long-awaited sequel to his best-selling Lambs, the bad doctor is once again reunited in a plot involving his Lambs nemesis, FBI agent Clarice Starling. Of course, it was Hollywood which immortalized Lecter in the 1991 movie adaptation of Silence of the Lambs, which managed to be both a crowd-pleaser and an award-winner. Indeed, the film won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actress (Jodie Foster as the plucky Starling), Director, and Best Screenplay Adaptation. For his work as Lecter, Anthony Hopkins was named Best Actor and became part of cultural iconography. For Lecter is that rarest of movie monsters, one who entices even as he repels. What Norman Bates was to the '60s, Lecter was to the '80s. And, doubtless, his reign of terror will continue. He is the man we love to hate.
His appeal was obvious from the start. Though Harris's Red Dragon (Dell) focused on the ritual murders carried out by a reprehensible killer named Francis Dolarhyde, the imprisoned Lecter evoked plenty of star power during his scenes. He came into the picture when troubled FBI agent Will Graham approached him for help in solving the murders. Bemused by the offer, Lecter taunted the man responsible for his own imprisonment (in a hospital for the criminally insane). The reason you caught me is that we're just alike, Lecter hissed to Graham. The uneasy ties between the hunter and the hunted were at the center of the Red Dragon movie adaptation, entitled Manhunter (1986). (Cast as Lecter was the Scottish actor Brian Cox.) With Silence of the Lambs (Griffin Trade Paperback), Lecter again wielded his mental powers, this time opposite FBI trainee Clarice Starling, who asked Lecter for help in capturing the infamous serial killer whose gruesome acts garnered him the nickname Buffalo Bill. According to publicity materials from the publisher, Hannibal opens seven years later, after Lecter's escape from authorities (during the Lambs' finale), as one of his earlier victims uses agent Starling as bait to draw the doctor into an intricate and unspeakable design for revenge. Word is that at least a million copies are headed for the shelves. Meanwhile, there is heated Hollywood anticipation over which studio/producer will wind up with the movie rights, and whether Anthony Hopkins will reprise his role as Lecter. But that's jumping ahead. Right now, Hannibal serves up one undeniable certainty: bookstores can expect a feeding frenzy. Biographer and Hollywood journalist Pat H. Broeske has written about popular culture's fascination with serial killers for publications including the New York Times.