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NewCityNet Cannibal Sins

Readers may eat it up, but "Hannibal" is a half-baked crock of continuity errors

By Elaine Richardson

JUNE 21, 1999:  Something's rotten besides the leftover flesh of a cannibal's murder victims in Thomas Harris' eagerly awaited "Hannibal."

And it isn't just the mutant flesh-eating pigs, the home lobotomy session, the Florentine disembowelment and the horrifying mental picture of Anthony Hopkins sucking on Jodie Foster's breast.

"Hannibal" is a book marred not just by a plot that could send anyone into hysterical giggling fits, but by a supreme lack of precision. And it's odd, considering that the writer is known for his forensic writing style and sometimes-overwhelming attention to detail--remember the chapter in "The Silence of the Lambs" on the difficulty of skin removal and preservation?

It seems the only research Harris didn't do in the ten-plus years it's taken him to write "Hannibal" is to reread his own books.

And, in a trend that continually strikes such high-level, pump-it-out-fast authors as Stephen King and Anne Rice, "Hannibal" coughs up enough putridly painful grammatical mistakes to send William Safire for the smelling salts. Again, an odd problem for someone who (supposedly) spends years on each book. Verb, who needs a verb? "Morning, and the concrete cage of the Hoover Building brooding under a milky overcast." Many sentences appear to be missing words altogether, and then there are those that come under the heading of unforgivable: "From the clarity of his speech, Dr. Lecter may have been awake for some time."

The most anticipated sequel of the decade does deserve some slack--especially considering that the book was delivered to the publishers March 23 for June 8 release. But in the drive to receive and regurgitate to the public as quickly as possible--gotta make that summer book rush--publishers are turning out half-assed work. In a business where a lot of huge names owe their success to good editors, this slipshod handling is a disservice to readers paying upwards of $25 for a hardcover and to the writers who depend on them to make their work shine. Maybe they think we won't notice, but as the stories dumb down, readers who find themselves less than absorbed in absurdity are more likely to spot major gaffes. I didn't note inconsistencies between "Red Dragon" and "The Silence of the Lambs" until "Hannibal" made them glaringly obvious.

And "Hannibal"'s gaffes have already opened the floodgates, spawning mistakes by other writers. At the venerable New York Times, Stephen King praised the book as the third in the Lecter "trilogy." Does Lecter's walk-on in about twenty pages of "Red Dragon," which really had nothing to do with him at all, qualify it as the first book of a trilogy? Then NYT reviewer Christopher Lehmann-Haupt refers to Lecter's nemesis Mason Verger as "the only one of Lecter's victims to have survived." He actually left three people alive, if you trust the count of "Dragon," but Harris fudges this with imprecise language: "...did you know one of Lecter's early victims is still alive?" Clarice Starling is asked in "Hannibal," thus covering the bases without actually saying that there were other survivors.


The sixth victim problem

The not-very-informative book jacket for "Hannibal" does manage to impart the detail that Mason Verger, the revenge-obsessed guy now trying to find Lecter and film him being eaten alive, "was Dr. Lecter's sixth victim." Not true.

Can't be.

A pivotal revelation about Lecter contained in "Red Dragon" is that he was caught partly because wounds on his sixth victim, a bow hunter who happened to be a former patient, bothered FBI profiler Will Graham. (Lecter would later slice Graham up with a linoleum knife.) Graham does note that Lecter killed nine and left two alive, but specifically states that the sixth victim is dead.

Somehow the publisher, Delacorte Press, managed to overlook this detail when drafting the book jacket information, which would suggest the blurb writer didn't actually read the new book. Clarice Starling notes all of this information on page 310 of "Hannibal" after examining the body of a new Lecter victim, a bow hunter killed in similar fashion. (For those keeping up with the body count, Harris is correct on the current number of victims. Lecter killed nine before he was caught, one in jail and five in his escape. By the end of "Hannibal" he's added eight, bringing the total to 23.)


Musical names/titles

Harris has some trouble keeping names and titles straight and this is as true between "Red Dragon" and "The Silence of the Lambs" as it is between "Lambs" and "Hannibal."
In "Dragon," Harris refers to G-man Jack Crawford's wife as Phyllis. In "Lambs" and "Hannibal," she's Bella. Late in "Lambs" we get the tardy explanation of Bella as a nickname that was always used unless Crawford was cross with her. However, in the first chapter of "Dragon" both Crawford and Will Graham, who Phyllis/Bella visited while in hospital for the aforementioned linoleum knife wounds, refer to her as Phyllis.

Lecter's asylum in "Dragon" is the Chesapeake Hospital for the Criminally Insane. In "Lambs" and subsequently it's the Baltimore Hospital for the Criminally Insane. The head honcho, Dr. Frederick Chilton, who we assume Lecter consumed after his escape in "Lambs," also gets a title change--from chief of staff at Chesapeake Hospital to the administrator at the Baltimore Hospital.

In "Hannibal," Harris continues to confuse things. Paul Krendler, a minor Justice Department flunky in "Lambs," was listed as the Deputy Assistant Attorney General, but in "Hannibal" he's now the Deputy Assistant Inspector General. In the Justice Department, where your boss is the Attorney General, that doesn't sound like a promotion.

And last, Harris, who remembered that the wine Lecter was drinking in the St. Louis hotel where he stayed after his escape in "Lambs" was a Batard-Montrachet, can't seem to remember the spelling of the name of serial-killer Jame Gumb's first victim, Fredrica Bimmel. The girl, whose "weighted down" status clues Starling into the fact that the killer knew her, has become Fredericka.


Hey, these dates don't match up!

The basic idea behind "Hannibal" is that seven years have passed since Lecter's escape, i.e., since "Lambs." Midway through "Lambs," we find out that Jack Crawford is 53. But early in "Hannibal," we're talking page 23 here, Crawford tells the FBI director he's 56.

And in his need to keep Crawford in the story, Harris also mucked with some other dates. Late in "Lambs" Crawford tells Starling, "I have to retire in two years. If I find Jimmy Hoffa and the Tylenol killer I still have to hang it up." Here we are seven years later and he's only aged three years, but he's still there. How's that? Harris has even modified the mandatory retirement age for old Jack, as the FBI director tells Crawford that at 56 he's one year from the mandatory retirement he was two years from at age 53.


A final leap of logic

In "Lambs," it's suggested, though never precisely stated, that Starling is from West Virginia or Oklahoma. This was reinforced by the film, which did expressly state that she was from West Virginia. That origin also seems the most likely reason that she, after having grown up in a Lutheran orphanage in Bozeman, Montana, would have gone to school at the University of Virginia. But in "Hannibal" when Lecter decides to dig up her father's remains, he ends up in Hubbard, Texas. Where did that come from? It could be Harris' final flip of the bird to our intelligence--it's already being hotly speculated that the entire book is an attempt to derail the popularity of his own creations. Who knows? I'm still trying to figure out how someone feeds a live man his own brain.


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