Lit in the Time of Coronavirus: Three (?) Thrillers by Thomas Harris

Hello! Happy Lunar New Year! I hope you’re all healthy, safe, and reading your hearts out. I’ve read three thrillers, all by Thomas Harris—well actually… it’s complicated. Read on to see what I mean.

The Silence of the Lambs: Abridged, by Thomas Harris,
Read by Katy Bates

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“‘Goodbye officer Starling.’ ‘And the study?’ ‘A census-taker tried to quantify me once. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a big amarone. Go back to school, little Starling.’”

In last week’s reading, Stephen King explicitly said, “Don’t listen to abridged audiobooks.” This week, the first book I read turned out to be an abridged audiobook, but I only learned that fact after listening to the whole thing. Funny how things turn out, right?

In The Silence of the Lambs, Clarise Starling is a student at the FBI academy who is assigned the task of interviewing Hannibal Lecter for a psychological survey. Hannibal is a genius cannibal who drives people insane and then eats them. Clarise forms some kind of bond with him, and with his (not-so-reliable?) guidance, tries to solve the murders committed by a guy called Buffalo Bill.

The abridged version was interesting for its cinematic cuts. Its scenes flowed very nicely, and it was only 3 hours long. Even so, it felt very well put together. Other than that I don’t have much to say about it—it’s abridged, after all, so I don’t recommend.

The Silence of the Lambs: Unabridged, by Thomas Harris,
Read by Frank Muller

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Warning: Profanity

“She didn’t let the room affect her. Starling walked up and down gesturing to the air. ‘Hold on girl,’ she said aloud. She said it to Catherine Martin, and she said it to herself. ‘We’re better than this room, we’re better than this fucking place,’ she said aloud. ‘We are better than wherever he’s got you. Help me, help me, help me.’ She thought for an instant of her late parents. She wondered if they would be ashamed of her now, just that question, not its pertinence, no qualifications, the way we always ask it. The answer was no, they would not be ashamed of her.”

So after listening to the abridged version I had no choice but to not listen to the whole thing again in the unabridged version.

The unabridged enchilada is about 11 hours long. What did they cut out in the abridged version? They missed moments of great characterization, like the one above. They didn’t explain things well enough in certain moments, which only became clear when listening to the unabridged version’s explanation. They also cut out entire subplots—Jack Crawford, senior investigator, has a wife who’s dying, for instance.

Overall, the original unabridged version is much better than the abridged version. It has great twists, great characters, and exciting subplots that actually add to the story. The only thing I will say is that Hannibal Lecter doesn’t actually seem that dangerous in it. He literally just asks Clarise questions about her life. There are moments when he does become dangerous, but it’s never towards her. That made me wonder why the author made that choice.

In any case, I would highly recommend the unabridged version, and not the abridged version.

Red Dragon: Unabridged, by Thomas Harris, Read by Alan Sklar

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“He sat in the jury box to read his letter. He wanted some relief. The letter was from Dr. Hannibal Lecter. ‘Dear Will, a brief note of congratulations for the job you did on Mr. Lounds [….] You know Will, you worry too much. You’d be so much more comfortable if you relaxed with yourself. We don’t invent our natures, Will, they’re issued to us, along with our lungs and pancreas and everything else. Why fight it? I want to help you Will, and I’d like to start by asking you this: When you were so depressed after you shot Mr. Garret Jacob Hobbs to death, it wasn’t the act that got you down, was it? Really, didn’t you feel so bad because killing him felt so good?’”

Red Dragon is another book by Thomas Harris. I read the unabridged 12-hour version.

It’s about an FBI member called Will Graham who is in retirement because he got Hannibal Lecter in jail, but in the process Hannibal attacked him. Now he’s brought out of retirement to find the Tooth Fairy, the legendary creature that leaves money under childrens’ beds when they lose a tooth a murderer who would rather be called “The Red Dragon.”

This book was interesting because Will Graham is much less heroic than Clarise Starling. As you can see from the excerpt, he even killed a man.

Will’s anti-heroism is complemented by Hannibal Lecter’s more villainous side. He actually tries to hurt Will (unlike with Clarise), which made this book more interesting.

However, most of Red Dragon was spent giving the backstory of the villain, which was really cool, but left me wondering about Will, because his conflict was never fully explored. At the end, there was just this convenient-seeming wrap-up of him philosophizing. He never actually dealt with his problems, which I felt was a wasted opportunity. Maybe Harris could have made the book a little longer to compensate, or cut the villain’s part down a bit to make space for Will, if that wasn’t possible.

In any case, this book was still good—not as good as The Silence of the Lambs, but still good, and I would recommend it if you are looking for a good thriller.

As for me, I’m on a thriller kick, so if you have any recommendations or thoughts, let me know in the comments below!