Hannibal by Thomas Harris

detail from ancient carving: dragon swallowing a man
The dragon has a mouthful.

Thomas Harris’s Hannibal is a Stephen King-like thriller without any supernatural effects.

The story opens with FBI agent Clarice Starling being suspended for an attempted drug arrest that resulted in five deaths, including that of a woman holding a baby, all captured by a TV crew tipped off by insiders.

While she’s suspended, Starling gets a letter from murderer Dr. Hannibal Leeter, who she interviewed in a hospital for the criminally insane before his escape seven years earlier. He’s never been found.

Starling begins looking for Hannibal, whose gruesome killings are at odd with his expensive tastes in food, wines, and the fine arts.

Unknown to her, Hannibal’s sixth victim, the only one who survived, is also looking for him. Mason Verger, head of a meatpacking empire, wants to see Hannibal suffer—literally—for turning him into an invalid. His body-builder sister has her own agenda that will require her brother’s presence for only a few minutes.

While Sterling’s investigation is being sabotaged by political considerations and male egos, Hannibal is pleasantly employed as a museum curator in Italy, under the name Dr. Fell.

Just when readers wonder how all these multiple threads will ever be resolved, Harris pulls out a surprising yet perfectly prepared final chapter.

Hannibal by Thomas Harris
Delacorte. ©1999. 486 p.
1999 bestseller #2; my grade: A-

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

The Firm by John Grisham

Man with briefcase climbs marble wall bearing sign THE FIRMJohn Grisham’s 1991 bestseller The Firm is a legal thriller as irresistible as it is implausible.

Headhunters from a very exclusive law firm specializing in tax work recruit Michael McDeere with a financial package he can’t refuse.

Mitch and wife, Abby, move to Memphis, knowing he’s expected to work 60-80 hours in a normal week, more during tax season. The job is worse than either expects and in ways they don’t expect. The secrecy, security measures, and loyalty requirements begin to threaten their marriage.

Mitch notices that five lawyers who had worked for the firm died in suspicious circumstances.

When a man identifying himself as an FBI agent tries to recruit him to give insider information, the firm’s management says it’s a government attempt to get clients’ confidential income information.

In a secret meeting, the FBI director personally tells Mitch a different story.

The story races to a thrilling, big-screen worthy climax.

It’s only the morning after that readers will realize they were suckered into not noticing that no one working the hours Mitch is supposedly working without the firm noticing a fall-off in his performance could possibly have engineered the outcome Grisham presents.

That morning-after realization is a sign of a superb story-teller.

The Firm by John Grisham
Doubleday. ©1991. 421 p.
1991 bestseller #7; my grade: B+

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Vanished resurrects Cold War era anxieties

Letters of Vanished on novel jacket in progressively smaller letters

Vanished is a Cold War era political thriller that will sound familiar to readers who grew up in that era.

White House Press Secretary Eugene Culligan relates the events.

One election year, a good, personal friend of President Roudebush vanishes from Burning Tree Golf Club.

Investigators learn Steve Greer left the country by a circuitous route.

That raises speculation that Greer’s in trouble, and that the President may be involved, too.

The President’s party gets jittery; so does Wall Street.

The President assigns the FBI to handle the investigation, which infuriates the CIA director and raises further speculation of something shady going on.

Culligan gets nervous because he can’t get information.

The press is hounding him, but he has nothing to say because he knows nothing.

Eventually, Culligan learns everything, but not before the American public and Fletcher Knebel’s readers do.

Knebel draws all his characters well enough that they are distinguishable but not particularly memorable. The focus is the story of what happened to Steve Greer and who’s going to break the story.

The ending fits its Cold War setting, but may sound a little simplistic today.

None the less, Vanished will entertain without deadening the brain cells.

Vanished by Fletcher Knebel
Doubleday, 1968. 407 p. (Book Club Edition). 1968 bestseller #8. My grade: B.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni