The Silence of the Lambs

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In 1981, suspense author Thomas Harris published RED DRAGON, a thriller about a serial murderer and the FBI agent whose mental processes were frighteningly like those of the human monster he pursued. A huge best-seller, RED DRAGON became the definitive novel of its genre because of Harris’ ability to tell the story from the point of view of both the hunter and the hunted. It spawned a host of imitators and this year’s follow-up, THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS.

Harris has wisely disposed of both the protagonist and antagonist of RED DRAGON, instead bringing secondary characters from that novel to the fore of THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. FBI agent Jack Crawford, Chief of the Bureau’s Behavioral Science Section, is on the trail of Buffalo Bill, a murderer who skins his female victims. Crawford recruits for his investigation Clarice Starling, an FBI academy trainee who lets her schoolwork suffer while assisting Crawford. She is sent to interview a killer, equally as deranged as Buffalo Bill, who is now incarcerated in a maximum security mental hospital: Dr. Hannibal Lecter (nicknamed “Hannibal the Cannibal”).

Clarice and Lecter establish a rapport, and he feeds her tidbits of information that lead her to believe that he knows the identity of Buffalo Bill. When Bill’s latest kidnap victim turns out to be a senator’s daughter, Washington politics interfere with Clarice’s progress on the case. It is a race against time as she and Crawford try...

(The entire section is 403 words.)