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The Silence of the Lambs

Time flies when you’re hiding under the bed.

It’s hard to believe that the hugely influential and completely creepy Silence of the Lambs is 25 years old this year. Thomas Harris’s creation Hannibal Lector has graced four books, five films and one recent television series. There is something in Psychiatrist Cannibal Lector’s eerie intelligence that gets under your skin and stays there.

Bestselling Author and Forensic Anthropologist Kathy Reichs has written an essay on why The Silence of the Lambs is deserving of such high praise.

Kathy Reichs:

‘Harris is a master of plot, and he spins a spellbinding story. A psychopath is kidnapping and murdering young women. The FBI sends a young female agent to interview an imprisoned serial killer. She thinks it’s to gather information, but we know it’s to gain insight into their quarry. The prisoner, a brilliant and murderous cannibal, will help only if the agent shares intimate details about her own life. She agrees. The twisted relationship between interviewer and interviewee forces the agent to consider her own psychological demons. That’s the surface story. But the real theme is mutual need…

Lecter dangles the hook, a taste of being a real agent. Starling bites. Through iron bars, the mad doctor and trainee become analyst and patient, teacher and pupil, father and daughter, while always remaining cat and mouse. Their respective quests bind them, for neither can succeed without using the other.

In the end, the characters slake their thirst. The killer is caught, the madman escapes, the trainee is promoted, the story closes. For them, the lambs fall silent. But Harris’s masterful characterisation, chillingly descriptive prose and captivating storytelling leave the reader thirsting for more.

For me, Harris’s detailed character portrayals and tense plot development were benchmarks of thriller writing, and his Clarice Starling was a landmark example of a new breed of female protagonist. His writing greatly influenced mine.’

[This extract is taken from an essay contained in Books to Die For, edited by John Connolly & Declan Burke, published in 2012 by Hodder & Stoughton, and is reprinted by permission.]


The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris is one of our Top Ten Crime Books of all time and after 25 years is as fresh and terrifying as ever. Have you read it? Let us know what you think in the comments below!

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