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Cari Mora: a tense heist thriller from the author behind Hannibal Lecter

Thomas Harriss latest novel is a welcome departure from his narrow and numbing obsession with Lecter.

With Red Dragon (1981) and The Silence of the Lambs (1988), Thomas Harris set the bar for modern suspense writing, drawing on developments in criminal-personality profiling to explore the type that had only recently been designated the “serial” killer. But his numerous followers have had little trouble exceeding his rate of production. During the 1990s, while the field grew crowded with writers meeting annual delivery dates, sufficiently flush with ideas to fuel multiple ongoing series, Harris cut a lonely, exotically Flaubertian figure, shunning the media, his working day spent “writhing on the floor in agonies of frustration” in the phrase of his admirer Stephen King, who published 14 novels in the time it took Harris to produce Hannibal (1999).

After the success of the resulting 2001 film version – produced by Dino De Laurentiis, who had lent Orion Pictures his long-held, though at the time little-cherished rights to the Lecter character for the 1991 adaptation of The Silence of the Lambs – Harris was induced to keep writing not only by the promise of further movie royalties but by De Laurentiiss threat to continue the Lecter story without his involvement. Its hard not to view the atrocious prequel, Hannibal Rising (2006), as both a tie-in and an exercise in marking territory. With the Hannibal quartet complete – and giving the writers of a widely revered NBC series plenty to feast on – there was a strong possibility that Harris would make a retreat into total silence.

Its possibly ungrateful to note that the barely 300 pages of Harriss new novel contain a fair bit of blank space, and that agonised perfectionism isnt greatly in evidence. At one point, Harris alludes to the common misuse of the verb “decimate”, despite his own prose being characterised by odd lapses in grammar and sense (the opening line of dialogue runs, “I can get the house where you say it is”). But Cari Mora, for its brevity and blemishes, is a tense heist thriller, plausibly grounded in coastal Florida and urban Colombia, and told through half-a-dozen points of view. It is a welcome departure from his narrow and numbing obsession with Lecter that still manages to provide some of the thrills and types desired from this long-awaited return. And its a novel that deserves a higher accolade – praise less inaudibly faint – than “Harriss best since The Silence of the Lambs”.

The books title character is a 25-year-old female immigrant, a former child soldier from Colombia, who works as the housekeeper of a Miami Bay mansion filled with bric-a-brac. Also on the premises is a booby-trapped cache of gold bricks deposited in 1989 by the drug baron Pablo Escobar. One of Escobars former associates sells his knowledge of the gold, though not exclusively, to the notorious Hans-Peter Schneider, a mercenary and pimp with an organ-selling sideline, who rents the house and begins digging.

The novels set-up (long-concealed booty, rival gangs, sun-kissed Florida) recalls Elmore Leonards 1990s work, or a conflation of the two noir films that John Huston made in 1948 – the action of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre shifted to the backdrop of Key Largo. But Harriss juggling of narrative perspectives – his Gods-eye view of human delusion – and preoccupation with motives darker and murkier than the lining of pockets tips the novel away from the crime genre and closer to the terrain of Joseph Conrad and his portraits of émigré communities in watery locales, especially Nostromo, his story of the scramble for silver in a rejigged Colombia.

The character of Hans-Peter Schneider is crucial to the books nihilist undertone and its appeal to existing fans. Cari Mora is Harriss first novel in almost half a century – since Black Sunday in 1975 – not to feature “Hannibal the Cannibal”, and his publishers have emphasised Schneiders status as the successor. But this “new monster” is really the old monster with a few tweaks, and the same dynamic characterises his new heroine as well.

Hans-Peter Schneider and Cari Mora have more in common with Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling, the heroine of The Silence of the Lambs, than the syllabic make-up of their names. Cari Mora, for all its other accents, is also the story of an erudite European monster (German as opposed to Lithuanian) with a taste for human flesh (more a sadistic necrophile than a connoisseur) who meets his match in a 25-year-old orphan fond of animals and good with guns.

On this showing, Schneider seems unlikely to emulate Lecters journey to global fame. Hes in every way a less rarefied proposition. Whereas Lecter plays the Goldberg Variations on an 18th-century Flemish harpsichord, Schneider sings the German folk songs that the Variations incorporate while in the shower. A powerful sense of smell, a marker of Lecters subtlety, is here explained by Schneiders hairlessness, which extends even to his nasal pathways.Lecter courteously assures Clarice that, unlike his foul-mouthed neighbour Multiple Miggs, he cannot smell her “c***” – only her skin cream and perfume – but Schneider is “susceptible to… the pollens of spiny amaranth and rape”, and his interest in Cari is altogether less psychological or cerebral (he imagines her “asleep in her hotness upstairs”). And while Lecter was “impenetrable”, recognised even by Dr Chilton, the churlish administrator of the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, as “much too sophisticated for the standard tests”, Schneider is instantly redolent of “brimstone” and flatly characterised as “a very bad man”, “crazy in a bad way” and, simply,Read More – Source

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