No Bedtime Story "Wait for it," we were told. And we did. And the wait was worth it. Thomas Harris' "Hannibal" (Delacorte, $27.95) is a commendable successor to his "Silence of the Lambs." But I wouldn't recommend it as bedtime reading. It'll scare the pajamas off of you. One of today's finest and most imaginative writers of psychological thrillers, Harris has the freedom in "Hannibal" to fully flesh out (forgive me) one of the ghastliest characters of contemporary pop fiction in a way he couldn't in "Silence." In his earlier book, Hannibal Lector was, for the most part, closely confined to his cell. But in "Hannibal," Dr. Lector is free, following his escape from custody, to roam the world and exercise his connoisseurship and impeccable taste in dining, in art, and in his appreciation of the finer qualities of government agent Clarise Starling. But Hannibal the Cannibal remains one of the most vividly drawn and intensely menacing characters you'll ever want or, in truth, not want to meet. He favors Gien French china and 19th-century Cardinal-pattern silver, a copper fait-tout for making sauces, and carbon-steel knives for slicing his favorite hors d'oeuvre: fresh human brains. Harris also gives us another macabre character in "Hannibal," one who vies with Lector himself in the ghoul sweepstakes: Mason Verger, an earlier victim of Lector's who returns as his nemesis. Mason likes his martinis flavored with the tears of a distraught child and prefers his revenge straight up with a porcine twist. When the two engage in mortal combat, time stands still for the reader. Harris proves once again that he is a masterful and completely engaging storyteller, and even if we have to wait another eight years for his next as we did between "Silence of the Lambs" and "Hannibal" we know he'll be cooking up (sorry) something terrifically
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