We should have seen it coming. With the horrendous ending that Thomas Harris gave to Hannibal (luckily rectified in the movie), why would he bother to give Lector a beginning that was worthwhile? I read one reviewer that said that Harris had “gone gay” for Hannibal. I disagree, if he had he might have bothered to write this book with some tender loving care instead of making it read like an “I’m drunk and need money” read (not that I know if Harris is even prone to drinking, but that is what it reads like . . . comparable to Ringo Starr in Shining Time Station.)
Hannibal Rising tells the story of a young Hannibal Lector and his journey from a priviledged child prodigy in Lithuania to his college days in Paris with his Japanese aunt, Lady Murasaki. The story lacks the psychological intrigue that made the previous novels in the series such gripping books. We learn that Lector is twisted due to the fact that his sister was eaten by starving war criminals and . . . and well thats it. I’m not saying that this wouldn’t be traumatic, but it is a hardly adequate explanation for Lector’s perverted predilictions. The book leaves the reader empty in that it is all story and no development, and thats what the reader of this book wants: the development of the monster. Instead, Harris shields Lector within Lector’s own mind. We learn how he gets his skills, but not why he exercises them after his gains vengeance for his young sisters death.
The legal thrust of the book is mainly in the realm of International Law and specifically International Criminal Law in post World War II Europe. Once the war enters the storyline the reader is treated to a series of war crimes committed by a group of pseudo German soldiers or Hilfswillige. For instance at one point Grutas (the antagonist) and his band of merry bad guys go looting disguised as the Red Cross. They also carry a barrage of false documents in order to seem like legal operatives to whomever they may encounter. Of course their war crime of eating Hannibal’s sister is included in the series of atrocities they commit.
Soon after the war ends and the post war era begins, there are references to the War Crimes Trials at Nuremberg. The first of which is a newspaper headline runs “Doctors Indicted at Nuremberg.” Then the reader meets Inspector Popil who delivered evidence at Nuremberg. Popil, as an investigator of war crimes, comes to the small French village to investigate the murder of the butcher that Hannibal kills. He comes because the butcher was suspected of war crimes and these “do not end with the war.” Popil investigates these because he lost his own family in the war. Later it is revealed that Hannibal is hunting (in vengeance) a few war criminals who were charged in absentia at Nuremberg. The result is that there is a conflict of sorts between Hannibal’s substantive justice and Popil’s formal justice. Popil wants to see these men go through the proper channels to recieve punishment. Hannibal, on the other hand, simply wants to see them punished.
The book also deals with crimes of art theft in the post war period. Specifically, a painting that Hannibal’s family owned appears on the market. According to the book it must be exhibited so anyone with a ownership rights my make a claim. When the art is confiscated, Inspector Popil demands the invoice and the Arts and Monuments advisory that is “required” to be on the premisis. The investigator and Hannibal then set a trap for the person that owns the mate to the painting. This man attempts to get Hannibal to sell to him due to the backlog of hearings (created under article 46 of the 1907 Hague Convention) that could keep Hannibal from actually getting ownership until he is an adult.
There are also aspects of general criminal law represented in the book. After Hannibal’s first violent outbreak he is questioned by the French Police. There is false testimony presented to try and protect Hannibal, but the commander is more concerned with protecting Hannibal himself. Thus he takes Hannibal into a jail cell and tells him, “Use judgement and you will never occupy a cell like this.”
Hannibal is later arrested, there is very little evidence against as pointed out by the prosecutor and he secures his release based on good behavior and good references. Hannibal’s incarceration is interesting because it helps to display a bit of the Lector character. He doesn’t feel guilt because he feels that his murders are completely justified. However, there is a gap in his thinking. Because he will kill if there is an attempt to bring him to justice. These enforcement officers are by all means innocent, yet they also recieve his retributive justice. This is the main failing in Hannibal’s thinking. This isn’t fleshed out in the book at all, but just something that occurred to me.
Later in the book, when Hannibal is in medical school, he must get death sentenced inmates to donate their bodies to science. To do this he must get them to sign a release. In probably the best few moments of the book, he must negotiate this deal with an inmate who acts as the lawyer for his client (a pile of clothing). The negotiation ends with the prisoner donating his body for a dose of laudanum before the execution. Inspector Popil is there and doesn’t want it administered because he feels that it diminishes the actual punishment that has been sentenced. Popil, “believe[s] in consequences.” In reality though the inspector wants one last chance to interrogate the prisoner about Klaus Barbie.
This is also a small question of Tax Law. When Hannibal’s uncle dies his chateau must be auctioned off in order to pay for the death taxes that have been levied. Since Lady Murasaki’s “resident status” comes into question with the death of her husband the tax collector cannot accept her sureties.
There is a bit of animal law also. We find out that the law of importation of insects in the “new republic” was “fuzzy” from a cricket dealer, and there is an ordinance against serving a local bird called an ortolan, that “came and went.”