Genesis of a monster.
It must be very tempting for the creator of a world-famous character to wring every drop of acclaim from his creation.
Although Hannibal Lecter owes much to Sir Anthony Hopkins's film portrayal, the genius of the psychiatrist-turned-cannibal has always come from author Thomas Harris never quite revealing how or why Lecter developed such tortuous tastes. The fact that hundreds of FBI profilers spent years trying to decipher the deadly doctor is a little spoilt by this prequel, Hannibal Rising.
Thomas takes us back to Hannibal's childhood and paints the traumas and tragedies that turned him into a monster: rather unimaginatively, the blame falls on Hitler.
Hannibal Lecter is the son of Lithuanian aristocrats who are forced to flee their castle by the advancing German armies. In typical Brothers Grimm fashion, their secret cabin in the woods is not so safe, and after all but Hannibal and his baby sister Misha are killed, the children must fend for themselves.
Enter the real "baddies" of the book ( Lithuanian collaborators facing starvation during the Baltic winter who imprison the young Lecters and give the future doctor his first taste of cannibalism.
The beginning of the novel has a certain gritty quality which is a compelling read. As Hannibal begins to track down his captors and kill them, while the methods are inventive, there is no real sense that this Hannibal is beginning the life journey of a man who later commits such horrors as feeding brains to a freshly lobotomised man.
To give Harris his due, he has taken seven years since Hannibal was published, and it is only a couple of years until the 20th anniversary of the novel version of Silence of the Lambs so he can hardly be accused of churning out books for the sake of sales figures. However, this novel is much shorter and less detailed than previous works, and it won't be a surprise that the film version is already due for release this year.
Sometimes the premise becomes ridiculous but the strength of Harris's writing abilities cannot be denied, and for those who have never read another Hannibal tale, or perhaps the less cynical, this could well be an entertaining interpretation of the classic revenge tale.
RIOT!: CIVIL INSURRECTION FROM PETERLOO TO THE PRESENT DAY, Ian Hernon, pounds 19.99.
The United Kingdom does not have the reputation of the French and some other volatile countries for violent protests on the streets. But this country, as the author Ian Hernon demonstrates, is by no means as placid as is often suspected. Rioting and bloodshed in our cities may not be on such a scale as in many other countries, but we have experienced our fair share of urban insurrection.
Hernon, a political journalist, plots the course of street violence in Britain from the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester to the present day.
He points out how "the ugly roar of the mob" has done far more to change society in this country than most people recognise.
He covers race riots both in London and provincial cities, trade union action, particularly over the Murdoch "moonlight flit" from Fleet Street to Wapping in the 80s, the miners' strike and the bloody demonstrations over the poll tax.
These riots were so violent that the then Tory Government caved in and introduced, instead, the council tax.
It was interesting that the first thing that Michael Heseltine did when he challenged Margaret Thatcher for the leadership was to say he would back down over the poll tax, which is precisely what John Major subsequently did.
The feeling is that if Mrs Thatcher had stayed in power she would not have surrendered to the mob. That was not her style.
Hernon has described this and many other troublespots over the years in vivid detail. It is troubling how quickly these events which dominated the headlines disappear from your memory. That is, until you pick up this book .
ON ROYALTY, Jeremy Paxman, pounds 20.
Jeremy Paxman is successful in a number of different arenas. He maintains his position as inquisitor in chief on the Newsnight chair, and also sneers at students on University Challenge. In the meantime he writes, and writes wonderfully well, about issues of great import.
With his latest book, Paxo has takes on a difficult balancing act ( how to enter the debate between rabid republicans and arch-monarchists with insight and verve and not reveal too much of oneself?
Well he does it, and with great humour and charm, as he recounts his own encounters with the royals.
He looks backwards and forwards, reflecting on and predicting our relationship with the monarchy. His conclusions are moderate and modest ( a break, one suspects, from a radical past ( but the journey to them is enjoyable enough.