BY ANDREW MOODY
One sunny afternoon I was overjoyed to discover Cari Mora, the latest novel by Hannibal Lecter creator Thomas Harris, who I recently profiled for CSM.
Just as Lecter could only be birthed at the dawn of the 1980’s, as Quantico desperately profiled the spate of serial killers that had begun in the wake of the Manson slayings in 1969, so only in 2019, as the post digital age of crime flourishes, could this book have been written.
Harris last published in 2006, the much anticipated Lecter prequel Hannibal Rising that at the time confused and disappointed most audiences, especially after the inept, rushed tie-in movie. I was reading it the day I discovered that Cari Mora existed, and, 13 years later, realising the density of Harris’s storytelling had been misinterpreted and Hannibal Rising was yet another crime masterpiece.
I won’t tell you too much about the plot or characters of Cari Mora, so as not to spoil the enjoyment of future readers. A literary review is not a plot summary.
The question is whether or not this new book is worthy of Harris’s iconic canon, and the answer is, of course. The savagery in this book emerges from South American gangs and guerrilla warfare.
Cari Mora is the name of the caretaker of a Miami Beachfront house that has £25 million of cartel money buried beneath it. Dead, shark eyed men are circling, and, because Cari is IUbeautiful, she is doubly at threat. But she has endeavours and resources unbenownst to the gangsters. She was a child soldier from the age of 12, and knows the taste of death.
What becomes instantly clear is that Harris is attempting to create a female character as interesting and formidable as Dr Lecter’s foil and lover Clarice Starling. Somehow, given the historically legendary Starling, immortalised by Jodie Foster in 1991s The Silence of the Lambs, he has achieved this.
A destroyer and creator of worlds, Harris has written some of the most haunting prose in literary history. The killings are vicious, cruel and common in Cari Mora. In the age of MS-13, the LA Death Cult of cocaine and heroin dealers, it is only correct that nearly 40 years after the horrifying violence of Dr Lecter began, Dionysus to Will Graham’s Pentheus, is extended to even more monstrous proportions.
Cari Mora is not an FBI agent like Clarice, but a dirt poor immigrant in America without the luxury of police protection. She is, of course, born of the spirit of Clarice Starling, and, despite suffering more sexual and physical abuse from the ghouls that populate the novel than Clarice ever did, the moral centre of the righteous killer in Starling lives within her.
“Today, with Dr Blanco watching, she stitched the gular pouch beneath the beak of a white pelican injured by a fishhook. Pouch stitching is delicate work and must be done in layers, each stitched separately while the bird is anesthetized with gas. It was peaceful, absorbing work, very different from her childhood experience, closing soldiers’ wounds in the field with a fast mattress stitch or a tourniquet or a poncho to cover a sucking chest wound, or pressing with her hand while she tore open a compress bandage with her teeth.”
This introductory passage to Cari Mora on page 9, tells, in a beautiful, effortless and haunting fashion what we’ll need to know about the character of our heroine. She is a good woman in a world filled with evil, predatory, greedy men.
The hardback edition I purchased has an icon of the Virgin Mary holding Christ as a babe, with two hidden curved blades at the bottom. The deep, blue cover and white text gives off an impression of genuine religious reference, the religious beliefs of the soldier.
Harris began his writing career five decades ago as a crime journalist in USA and Mexico, and is one of the few prescient writers still working today, politely declining a social media presence like his increasingly foolish contemporary Stephen King.
A clear work of genius, it is irrelevant to force Cari Mora into competition with Harris’s other books. Is it better than The Silence of the Lambs? Is that even possible to debate yet? Wait twenty years to see the full influence of Cari Mora, I promise you this is a very special gift to the readers of a very special writer.
Follow Andrew Moody on Twitter @VoguishFiction