Call me a freak, but I have a bit of a crush on Hannibal Lecter. He may be the scariest fuck out there (certainly scarier than the supposed monster of the book, Buffalo Bill), but he just oozes style and knowledge. In fact, he has so much style and knowledge that he doesn't come off as a ridiculous prick when he says things like, 'A census taker tried to quantify me once. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a big Amarone'* or 'Can you smell his sweat? That peculiar goatish odour is trans-3-methyl-2 hexenoic acid. Remember it, it's the smell of schizophrenia.' Quite the contrary -- he sounds cool saying these things. Sophisticated, even. In this and many other ways, Dr Lecter is so utterly fascinating that you'll still find yourself rooting for him after he has committed several heinous (but brilliant!) murders, hoping he'll stay out of the hands of the police and live out his life in freedom. Now that's quality writing for you.
As you can probably tell from the above, I like The Silence of the Lambs, which is to say the book on which the movie was based. Except for the fact that Harris makes Clarice rather stupid** and that the dialogue in the book is a bit too clever and masculine for its own good***, it's a solid and exciting will-they-find-him-in-time-to-save-the-girl story -- a page-turner if ever there was one. The characters aren't terribly easy to identify with, but that's all right, because for one thing, they're cool (had I mentioned that yet?), and for another, they all have a clearly defined quest. They don't necessarily have the same quest, but hey, that only serves to increase the tension.
In some regards the book is better than the film. Remember those stupid anagrams from the movie? They're not in the book (except for the bilirubin one, which I actually quite like). The book makes its connections in a much more logical, less what-the-fuck?-ish way. It also has a more realistic romance, though not necessarily a better one. On the down side, I think Thomas Harris must have kicked himself for not having come up with the closing line of the film ('I'm having an old friend for dinner') himself. In my opinion, it's the best closing line in cinematic history, unmatched by the ending of the book. Still, it's a satisfying read. Very satisfying. As satisfying as the movie, and that's saying a fair bit.
* Yes, that's what he says in the book. Not 'a nice Chianti'. I've been reliably informed by those in the know (I myself do not actually drink wine) that Amarone and Chianti are not in fact the same thing. 'Chianti' does sound better than 'Amarone' in this line, doesn't it?
** In the book, Dr Lecter tells Clarice in one of their first interviews that Billy has kidnapped large-chested Catherine Martin because 'he wants a vest with tits on it'. He then goes on to say in their next meeting that 'Billy is making a girl suit out of real girls'. And despite these incredibly obvious clues (which cannot be rude jokes on Lecter's part as he's far too sophisticated to make such rude jokes) it takes Clarice, who is supposed to be really intelligent, the entire rest of the book to figure out what it is that Billy wants from his victims. They wisely changed that in the movie, where Clarice doesn't have her entire quest spelled out for her right at the beginning.
*** I've never met any women who speak to each other the way Clarice and Ardelia do. Then again, I've never met any brilliant FBI trainees, so what do I know? Perhaps they do speak to each other like that at Quantico. I guess I'll never find out. (Anyone out there have FBI-trained friends? Anyone? Bueller?)