The Silence of the Lambs (novel)

The Silence of the Lambs (novel)

infobox Book |
name = The Silence of the Lambs
title_orig =
translator =

image_caption = deletable image-caption
author = Thomas Harris
cover_artist =
country = United States
language = English
series = Hannibal Lecter
genre = Thriller, Horror
publisher = St. Martin's Press
release_date = 1988
media_type = Print (Hardback & Paperback)
pages = 352 pp (hardcover)
isbn = ISBN 0-312-02282-4
preceded_by = Red Dragon
followed_by = Hannibal

The Silence of the Lambs is a horror/crime novel by Thomas Harris, starring his popular villain Dr. Hannibal Lecter, the sociopathic, cannibalistic psychiatrist.

Plot summary

The novel opens with Clarice Starling, a young FBI trainee, being asked to carry out an errand by Jack Crawford, the head of the FBI division that draws up psychological profiles of serial killers. Starling is asked to present a questionnaire to brilliant former forensic psychiatrist turned cannibalistic psychopath, Hannibal Lecter. Lecter is serving nine consecutive life sentences in a Maryland mental institution for his murders.

We also learn of Jack Crawford's hunt for a serial killer dubbed "Buffalo Bill", who has abducted five different women, keeping them for up to two weeks before killing them, taking parts of their skin and dumping them in rivers. The nickname was started by Kansas City Police Homicide Division, as a joke that "he likes to skin his humps." Before meeting Lecter, Starling meets with Dr. Chilton, head of the institution where Lecter is incarcerated. Chilton is both vain and territorial about access to his prized criminal specimen, and his clear sexual interest in the young woman makes her uncomfortable. Starling interviews Lecter in his cell, which is located at a distance from the other patients on his block; she must pass down the entire row, and during her transit, one inmate, "Multiple" Miggs, hisses that "I can smell your cunt." Lecter himself is pleasant and well-mannered, almost to an extent that would be considered charming, but is also capable of penetrating psychological insight into her personality; at the end of their interview, he is able to lay her bare with only a few words. He refuses to fill out the questionnaire, and sends Starling on her way; but as she leaves, Miggs flings semen at her, and Lecter, offended at this discourtesy, calls Starling back to his cell and gives her cryptic information. He tells her to "look in Raspail's car for [her] valentines."

The information leads Starling to a storage rental lot where the possessions one of Lecter's victims, Benjamin Raspail, are contained. In Raspail's vintage car is a severed head in a jar. Through the course of the book, Lecter explains that the head is that of a man named Klaus who was Raspail's lover. Lecter also drops tantalizing hints on Buffalo Bill. He predicts that the next victim will have been scalped, and offers his professional insight on Buffalo Bill's motivation: "He wants a vest with tits on it."

When Bill's sixth victim is found in West Virginia, Starling helps Crawford perform the autopsy. Starling finds a moth chrysalis in the throat of the victim, and just as Lecter predicted, she has been scalped. Diamond-shaped patches of skin have also been taken from her shoulders. Autopsy reports, furthermore, indicate that Bill killed her within four days of her capture, much faster than his earlier victims. On the basis of Lecter's prediction, Starling believes that he knows who Buffalo Bill really is. She also asks why she was sent to fish for information on Buffalo Bill without being told she was doing so; Crawford explains that, if she had had an agenda, Lecter would never have spoken up.

Starling takes the chrysalis to the Smithsonian, where it is eventually identified as the "Death's Head Moth," so named because of the signature skull design on its back. This particular specimen lives only in Asia, and in the United States must be hand-raised.

In Tennessee, Catherine Baker Martin, the daughter of Senator Ruth Martin, is kidnapped. Within six hours, her blouse is found on the roadside, slit up the back: Buffalo Bill's calling card. Crawford is advised that no less than the President of the United States has expressed "intense interest" in the case, and that a successful rescue is preferable. Crawford estimates they have three days before Catherine is killed.

With the stakes heightened, Starling is sent back to Lecter to obtain more information from him after his correct predictions and, most notably, the discovery of another Death's Head Moth cocoon in Klaus's throat. Lecter lied about Klaus's killer; it was Buffalo Bill, and Starling's theory that Lecter knows Bill's identity is now accepted as factual. Starling presents Lecter with a deal: if he gives information which leads to Bill's arrest and saves Catherine Martin's life, Senator Martin will have Lecter transferred to a new institution where he will be given more privileges. This deal was concocted by Crawford as a last-ditch effort to get Lecter to talk; Senator Martin in fact knows nothing about it, which Starling "does not know". Lecter, in turn, demands information from Starling: he will offer his views on who Buffalo Bill might be in exchange for details of her personal life.

He starts by asking Starling about her worst childhood memory: the death of her father, a night marshal who was killed by two robbers on a night patrol. In exchange, Lecter explains that Bill is seeking to change himself. He explains that Bill isn't actually a transsexual, but only thinks he is. Bill's obsession with moths stems from the metamorphosis they go through, caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly. He has probably tried to apply for gender-reassignment surgery and been rejected. Starling doesn't pick up on how this will help her, so Lecter probes further into her past: Starling is forced to admit her father was not a law enforcement officer, but a night watchman and was thus not entitled to death benefits. After her father's death, her mother couldn't support her and she was sent to her uncle's ranch in Montana. Two months later she ran away. Lecter, in a "quid pro quo" exchange, explains that checking through the records of people turned down for gender-reassignment surgery because of convictions for violence would be a good place to start.

After Starling leaves, Lecter reminisces on the past, recalling a conversation with Benjamin Raspail. Raspail, during that therapy session, explained Klaus's death at the hands of Raspail's jealous former lover, Jame Gumb, who then used Klaus's skin to make an apron. Raspail also revealed that Gumb had an ephiphany upon watching a moth hatch. Lecter's pleasant ruminations are interrupted when Chilton steps in. A listening device allowed him to record Starling's conversation, and Chilton has found out that Crawford's deal is a lie. He offers one of his own: If Lecter reveals Buffalo Bill's identity, he will indeed get a transfer to another asylum, but only if Chilton gets credit for getting the information from him. Lecter insists that he'll only give the information to Senator Martin in person, in Tennessee. Chilton agrees. Unknown to Chilton, Lecter has managed to fashion and conceal a handcuff key. He knows that once he is outside the asylum, he will be in the custody of police officers who will use handcuffs on him, rather than straitjackets.

In Tennessee, Lecter toys with Senator Martin briefly, enjoying the woman's anguish, but eventually gives her some information about Buffalo Bill: his name is William "Billy" Rubin, and he has suffered from elephant ivory anthrax, a knifemaker's disease. He also provides an accurate physical description.

With Lecter held in a makeshift cell overnight, Clarice Starling confronts him. She suspects that Lecter misled everyone about Billy Rubin. Their conversation continues from before, with Lecter giving clues as to Buffalo Bill's identity in exchange for stories about Starling's childhood. Lecter explains that Bill's base nature is to covet: he wants that which he sees around him, every day. He then asks Starling to explain the circumstances of her flight from her uncle's farm. One night at the ranch, Starling says, she awoke in darkness to hear lambs screaming as they were being slaughtered. Lecter asks if she can still hear the lambs crying, and wonders if she imagines that saving Catherine will finally give her some peace. Lecter now understands Clarice Starling, but Chilton interrupts the conversation, preventing Lecter from transmitting to her a parallel understanding of Buffalo Bill. He does return Starling's case file to her before she is escorted from the building. She is further ordered by Justice Department deputy Paul Krendler to return to the FBI Academy and resume school before she is forced to retake her studies.

That evening, Lecter retrieves his makeshift key from his gumlime and surreptitiously picks the lock of his handcuffs while Officers Boyle and Pembry retrieve his dinner tray. He then attacks and kills both officers. The action then cuts to the police on duty downstairs, who hear three shots fired and begin an armed ascent to Lecter's cell at the top of the building. There they find Boyle mutilated and dead, Pembry mutilated but barely alive, and no sign of Lecter. While the EMTs transport Pembry down in the elevator, blood drips from the hatch in the elevator's ceiling. Carefully, SWAT opens a door onto the shaft and demands Lecter's surrender; when the form below does not move, the hatch is opened, and a corpse is removed. The SWAT team and police gather around what they believe is Lecter's dead body, until one officer comes forward and recognizes the tattoos on its arms as belonging to Pembry. The ambulance, containing two emergency medical technicians and Hannibal Lecter disguised in a mask of Pembry's facial skin, never makes it to the hospital. A clue left behind by Lecter in the makeshift cell later reveals that William "Billy" Rubin isn't a real name, but instead a play on the word "bilirubin", the substance resulting from decay of red blood cells which is also "the chief coloring agent in shit".

Starling's shock at all these events is put on hold when she realizes that Lecter has left some further clues for her. Starling realizes that Buffalo Bill's first victim, Fredrica Bimmel, was killed first but found third, suggesting that Bill wanted to hide her body. Starling surmises that Bill knew Bimmel personally, since Bill began by coveting that which he saw around him every day. She accepts that she will flunk out of the Academy and Crawford sends her to Bimmel's hometown, Belvedere, Ohio. There, Starling discovers that Bimmel was a tailor. Dresses in her closet have diamond shaped templates on them, identical to the patches of skin removed from Buffalo Bill's latest victim. Recalling Lecter's summary of Buffalo Bill's motive—"He wants a vest with tits on it"—Starling realizes that Buffalo Bill is a capable tailor who wants to make himself into a woman by fashioning himself a "woman suit" of real skin. She telephones her FBI office and is informed that a team is already on the way to make an arrest. Lecter's transsexual-surgery theory has yielded a positive ID from Johns Hopkins: a "Jame Gumb" just outside Chicago. Crawford is leading a strike on Gumb's business address in Calumet City, Illinois, while Chicago SWAT takes a home address. Starling is to continue interviewing Bimmel's friends.

Starling learns that Bimmel once worked for a woman named Mrs. Lippman. At Lippman's house, however, the door is answered by Jame Gumb. Starling has no idea who he really is, but when she spies a Death's Head Moth flapping around on the back of his robe, she realises. Clarice draws her weapon and attempts to arrest Gumb, but he scrambles down into the basement and she pursues. She finds Catherine Martin in a home-made oubliette, and is hunting Gumb when the lights go out, leaving her in darkness. Gumb, who deliberately tripped the fuses and is now wearing night vision goggles, creeps up behind Starling and cocks his gun. Starling hears the sound, fires, and kills him.

Life returns to normal for Starling. She will not be forced to retake, but the FBI is cutting her very little slack. With her roommate's help, she plans to cram for some final exams and graduate. She has approval where it counts, though: from Crawford, from some of her instructors, and of course from Catherine and Ruth Martin.

In a St. Louis hotel room, we find Lecter writing farewell letters. He is planning some self-administered cosmetic surgery to disguise himself, but for now he has some loose ends to tie up. To Chilton, he promises horrible retribution. To Barney, a nurse at the ward who was civil to him, Lecter appends thanks and a generous tip. Finally, to Starling, he sends a promise that he will not come after her, "the world being more interesting with you in it." He also reminds her that he would like to be informed should she ever defeat her inner demons and find herself in the silence of the lambs.


*Clarice Starling
*Dr. Hannibal Lecter
*Jack Crawford
*Jame Gumb/Buffalo Bill
*Ardelia Mapp
*Dr. Frederick Chilton
*Catherine Baker Martin
*Senator Ruth Martin
*Paul Krendler
*Noble Pilcher
*Albert Roden


Jame Gumb was based on five real-life serial killers:
* Gary Ridgway, who like Gumb only murdered women and dumped his victims bodies in rivers often with objects inserted inside their bodies.
* Ed Gein, a Wisconsin man who robbed graves and murdered women in order to flay their bodies and make clothing out of them. Gein was also the inspiration for Norman Bates in the Alfred Hitchcock film "Psycho" as well as" Leatherface" in "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre".
* Ted Bundy, who killed dozens of women in the 1970s, often luring victims by pretending he was injured with a cast on his arm, a technique Gumb used to lure Catherine Martin into his van. Similar to Lecter, Bundy also offered to help investigators find other serial murderers by "giving insights" into their psychology while he was in death row, specifically about the Green River Killer.
* Gary M. Heidnik, who held women captive in a deep hole in his basement.
* Edmund Kemper, man who murdered women and had sex with his victims

Film adaptation

Following the 1986 adaptation of "Red Dragon" (filmed as "Manhunter"), "The Silence of the Lambs" was adapted by Jonathan Demme in 1991. "The Silence of the Lambs" became the third film in Oscar history to win the five most prestigious Academy Awards - Actor in a leading role, Actress in a leading role, Director, Motion Picture and Screenplay. It stars Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter, Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling and Ted Levine as the serial killer Buffalo Bill.

Literary significance

The novel was a great success and Craig Brown of the Mail on Sunday wrote, "No thriller writer is better attuned than Thomas Harris to the rhythms of suspense. No horror writer is more adept at making the stomach churn", The Independent wrote "Utterly gripping" and Amazon wrote "...driving suspense, compelling characters,...a well-executed thriller..." [cite web
title=Editorial Reviews
] Perhaps surprisingly, children's novelist Roald Dahl also greatly enjoyed the novel, describing it as "subtle, horrific and splendid, the best book I have read in a long time."

Awards and nominations

*The novel won the 1988 Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel.
*It was nominated for the 1988 World Fantasy Award.


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