This is the first book I read of the Hannibal Lecter Trilogy. I have seen Red Dragon, the first part as a movie, I have not seen / read The Silence of the Lambs (yes, seriously) so the characters of the novel were new to me.
Thomas Harris knows how to write. His choice of words and phrases, description of the sinister happenings in the story are amazing. The words captivate and frighten the reader, yet keeps him from closing the book.
Hannibal Lecter, the cannibalistic doctor has escaped from prison and has gone missing for seven years. The FBI sleuth Clarice Starling, who talked with him and was helped by him to catch another serial killer (that is the story of The Silence of The Lambs) has hit a plateau in her career and is about to be suspended from service for a botched raid. Then she receives a letter from the doctor, mocking her and asking her to stick to her strengths instead of giving up. Her mentor in FBI uses the letter to save her career saying that she is needed to capture Hannibal.
Mason Verger is a paedophile and a billionaire who was maimed by the doctor and has announced a huge bounty for his head. Mason Verger has lost his face (the doctor gave him drugs and let the dogs eat his face) and is on life support with one burning ambition of torturing the doctor to death. The doctor is spotted in Italy by an Italian policeman Pazzi, who informs Mason Verger. When Verger's henchmen try to take the doctor in Italy, he kills Pazzi and a hitman and escapes to USA.
Till here the novel is captivating and suspenseful. Hannibal's childhood and why he turned cannibalistic are explained in flashback mode; The killing of his younger sister Mischa by Germans in the second world war time, Starling's resemblance to Mischa which prompts the doctor to help her are new additions to the character of Lecter from the previous novels.
Once the doctor reaches USA, the novel turns into an implausible movie. Starling is suspended from FBI by Mason's manipulations, Mason kidnaps the doctor to be eaten alive by pigs, Starling arrives in the last minute to save the doctor, Starling is hit and is saved by the doctor, he hypnotises her to the extent that she eats a cannibalitic dinner with the doctor and they fly away to a happy ending. It was a disappointing end to a great start.
I saw the novel as a good (Clarice Starling) vs evil (Hannibal Lecter) story. However in the end evil triumphs over good, and Lecter's character turns out to be an antihero instead of a complete villain.
The novel has chilling violence, especially preparation by Mason to torture the doctor (by letting the pigs eat him piece by piece) so beware of it before picking up the book.
Read it for the prose and characterisation, but it does leave a disappointment of a great story gone astray.