Book Review: The Silence of the Lambs

“Problem-solving is hunting; it is savage pleasure and we are born to it.”

I adored the movie Silence of the Lambs when I first saw it years ago and have seen it many times since. I promised myself that one day, I would hunt down the book and read it. When I finally got around to reading it, I devoured the book.

Book cover with a woman's hand is held out and above it flies a yellow and brown moth with a human skull on its back. The cover reads "Thomas Harris, The Silence of the Lambs"

Synopsis: Clarice Starling is a bright young woman, a hardworking student at the FBI Academy. Thanks to her work ethic and skills she is asked to do a seemingly impossible task: go to a maximum security prison and talk to the renown serial killer Doctor Hannibal Lecter. Starling’s surprise success opens doors for her. But these doors lead to Buffalo Bill, a serial killer just as twisted as Doctor Lecter. Buffalo Bill keeps is victims alive for only a short time. His latest victim is the daughter of a powerful senator who is putting pressure on the FBI to work like they never have before. To save lives Clarice must make deals with a number of people, including Doctor Lecter, a man hellbent on regaining his freedom.

Thoughts: This book is everything I want in a mystery/thriller. It’s intricate, twisted, and dark. I found it delightfully easy to sink into the story.

This book is both strange and delightful. The characters, the setting(s), the underlying themes, all are deeply relatable, and yet seemingly removed from real life. I think a fair bit of this can be attributed to the writing style. It goes from past tense to present tense, but if you’re alert, you’ll catch on to where this happens and it’s easy to see why. It took a couple of chapters for me to get used to it, but I found it delightful overall. It added to the suspense and fast pace of the story.

If serial killers and psychology weren’t enough to capture my attention, the way that these topics and others were handled certainly did. While Harris brings up excellent points about how people treat one another through his characters, the book never once falls into the trap of preaching. Whatever is said is always tied into the plot. This was not only incredibly refreshing, but it also heightened the suspense.

One of the key elements in the book is trans-sexuality. There are very few, if any transsexual characters, but the topic is integral to the plot. I was happy to see statistics, acknowledgement of the struggles that those who transition go through, and how people stood up to protect their privacy. That is a huge and welcomed difference from the movie.

Speaking of the movie, if you’ve seen it but haven’t read the book, fret not. The book is hardly spoiled for you. Although I knew the ending, there were many more details and twists that I didn’t see coming. The ending is a fair bit different than how the movie portrays it to boot. I was delighted by the book’s ending.

From start to finish The Silence of the Lambs is an immersive book. The characters, even the most minor of them, are fleshed out, challenging topics are handled with grace, and the pacing is as close to perfection as one can get. This became an immediate classic when first published, and the book is certainly deserving of such praise. This became an instant favorite for me. No doubt I will enjoy reading it many times in the future.

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