TT 121: Harold Land and Hampton Hawes, with a side of Thomas Harris

New DTM: “Ursula” by Harold Land and “Hip” by Hampton Hawes.


According to Wikipedia, the legs on the cover of Sonny Clark's Cool Struttin’ belonged to Ruth Lion, Alfred's wife. You learn something new every day...


“This is how River Cartwright slipped off the fast track and joined the slow horses.” — I’m finally starting the Slough House series by Mick Herron, and I admit that’s a hell of a first sentence.


And then there’s Hannibal by Thomas Harris. I had always heard it was terrible, and also was aware of the disturbing trajectory of Clarice Starling, so gave it a pass despite my admiration for Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs. However, the latest, Cari Mora, is good. When I noticed that Cari Mora received strikingly unsympathetic, even petulant, reviews, I felt solidarity with the author, who will always remain one of the genre’s greatest masters. (Don’t we want more Thomas Harris on the shelves, rather than less? After the drubbing Cari Mora got, I’d be surprised if he bothered to get in the game again.)

Hannibal is not quite what I expected. The tonal shift from the previous two books is so shocking that at first I found it almost unreadable. But then, after I settled in, I realized that Hannibal was camp; or, if camp is too strong, then at least sardonic, knowing, judgmental, and meta. The obvious subtext is: how does an author live with having created a best-selling monster?

Unlike the straightforward narratives that gave Harris his reputation, Hannibal has more in common with the mysterious absurdities of Charles Willeford, perhaps especially Grimhaven, the still-unpublished scream of despair that Willeford produced in disgust after being informed Miami Blues was a hit.

Just one detail. After the opening shoot-out, the Guinness Book of Records contacts Starling, wishing to include her as the female law enforcement officer who has killed the most people in the line of duty. This is not a serious crime writer at work; this is the author letting us know to keep our wits about us, and to wonder at the larger implications of being entertained by violent death.

To be clear, in terms of being an unequivocal masterpiece, Hannibal is obviously no Red Dragon. (Then again, few books can be held to the Red Dragon standard.) However, Hannibal did teach me that Harris’s trajectory has more subtlety then I realized. I’m going to keep reading and considering.