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.

Book Review: The Ribbajack and Other Curious Yarns

“Gentle reader, heed my plea, pray witness now this shocking tale…”

Apologies for the terribly belated book review. But have one last treat before the night ends. I’ve been a long time lover of Jacques, and it seems a disservice to his memory to not bring to light his little book of curious short stories. And while this Halloween night is creeping ever closer to its finish, there’s always time to pull out a delightfully unsettling story collection.

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Synopsis: From the mastermind behind the bestselling Redwall series, Brian Jacques invites us to explore a darker, creepier side of life with six short stories. Each story explores a different element of the human experience, each experience more bizarre than the last. Enhancing the mood is a short poem that preferences each story. Long time fans of Brian Jacques, and those who are new to his works will be able to see why Jacques is considered a master storyteller.

Thoughts: There is nothing like Jacques’ writing style. Despite the stories being dark, there is a warm, welcoming feeling to the stories. This is what made me devour the tales growing up. As an adult, I’m still in love with the collection.

While the horror aspect of the collection initially attracted me, it’s the twists and morals of the stories that have helped this set of stories dig its way into my heart. The welcoming writing style keeps you reading, and then something slightly unexpected happens then is built upon. Of course, it’s not Jacques if there’s only one twist. It’s the ultimate twist that leads to the moral. Yet this moral is hardly a slap on the wrist, and more of an invitation to think, to muse and mutter over what you just read, to walk a little more cautiously, or a little more bravely.

As for the stories themselves…”The Ribbajack” is by far my favorite. It’s the longest of the seven, and the darkest. Revenge tales are old hat at this point, but the revenge of the Ribbajack is unusual and fresh, despite the plot drawing from historical elements. The Ribbajack is a monster worthy of the Monster Hall of Fame.

I deeply appreciated “The Mystery of Huma D’Este”, and “The all Ireland Champion Versus the Nye Add”, although these stories didn’t seem quite as magical as they did to me when I was younger. Perhaps it’s because I re-read them so much as a kid that they’ve lost a bit of their appeal now that I’m older. After reading them so many times I’ve come to see how the twists are inevitable, not surprising.

“Rosie’s Pet” and “A Smile and a Wave” are oddly humorous. There’s something deeply childlike and relatable in each. The twists are predictable after reading them so many times, yet the enjoyment for me was enhanced, knowing what was coming. “Miggy Mags and the Malabar Sailor” must be mentioned with these two as well. The humanity and humor in this story is wonderful. Even though these stories are more lively than the others, there’s a seriousness and darkness to all three. When read together with the others in the collection, it makes sense how they would be included.

Overall this is a lovely set of stories, perfect for reading aloud around bonfires, or for hiding under the covers and reading by flashlight. Dark surprises, wicked humor, and a warm writing style make this short story collection an excellent pick.

TL;DR: Those familiar with Jacques’ works will no doubt delight in this collection. While it’s a step away from the Redwall and Castaways series, there’s no denying the enjoyment these seven tales give. If you’re new to the author, The Ribbajack and Other Curious Yarns is a brilliant introduction to him. Told in a unique style, these stories are twists on classic ideas and questions we sometimes dare not ask ourselves. If you’re into the darker and more curious things in life, then this is a book well worth investing in.