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A-Hannibal RisingIn Hannibal Lecter, Thomas Harris created the one of the 20th century’s most memorable and maniacal villains. Hannibal Rising (after 1988’s Silence of the Lambs and 1999’s Hannibal) reaches back to Lecter’s early years to uncover the roots of his singular evil. The story starts during World War II, when eight-year-old Hannibal watches his family home destroyed in Lithuania, and sees something even more gruesome happen to his sister. As he seeks to redress this wrong, Hannibal falls in love with his Japanese aunt (the source of Lecter’s highly refined aesthetic sense), goes to medical school, and, one imagines, picks up helpful tips on pairing food with wine.
Delacorte. 336 pages. $27.95. ISBN: 0385339410

Boston Globe 3 of 5 Stars
"While Harris has explained, in gripping detail, Hannibal Lecter's mysterious origins, perhaps Lecter is a more frightening character in Silence of the Lambs, where his childhood traumas, his dark closet of memories remained tightly shut." Chuck Leddy

Charlotte Observer 3 of 5 Stars
"What is peculiar is that, as opposed to the earlier (and superior) Lecter novels, the violence is now committed in righteous indignation. Lecter is no longer the psycho who delivered to readers a delicious shudder—he's an avenging angel, and there is something dispiriting about that." Sam Shapiro

Dallas Morning News 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Mr. Harris' prose has begun to feel more and more like a screenplay between two covers. The police procedural detail that made Red Dragon so sticky has melted away, leaving behind snappy dialogue, cartoonishly drawn characters and a penchant for sentence fragments." John Freeman

NY Times Book Review 2.5 of 5 Stars
"What this young-cannibal story describes is a process by which desire is reduced to mere appetite; and it suggests, provocatively, that the function of taste is simply to make that desire-free appetite a little more interesting. That's a sad thought. And I can't help wondering whether Hannibal Lecter is interesting enough for Thomas Harris anymore." Terrence Rafferty

Denver Post 2 of 5 Stars
"Harris seems to want us to feel sorry for Hannibal, to ask ourselves what we would do under similar circumstances. If that is indeed what he is up to, it is a valiant effort—but no cigar." Tom Walker

Philadelphia Inquirer 2 of 5 Stars
"With each succeeding book … the tone and setting have grown increasingly effete and European. The further [Lecter] moves from his pulpy roots… the less interesting he becomes." David Hiltbrand

New York Times 0.5 of 5 Stars
"Its sadism is subdued (though still sickening), and its young Hannibal sounds nothing like the older one. The reader who begins with this new book will have no idea why any of the older ones are well regarded." Janet Maslin

Critical Summary

After the runaway success of Red Dragon (1981) and The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal profoundly disappointed both literary and film critics, not to mention fans of the series. Harris returns with Hannibal Rising, to mixed acclaim. A sense of bafflement pervades the negative reviews, with critics puzzled by how a talent like Thomas Harris could turn out what they perceive to be a glorified screenplay (the film version of Hannibal Rising was released in early 2007) written purely to cannibalize the reputation of the series. Reviewers who look past the marketing blitz find something of value in this prequel—not enough to wholly recommend it, but not enough to discredit it either. One thing both sides agree upon: Hannibal works better as a background character. It seems that the more we know about evil, the less frightening it becomes.