Gothic extremes of human cruelty: Cari Mora, by Thomas Harris, reviewed

18 May 2019

9:00 AM

18 May 2019

9:00 AM

It has been 13 years since Thomas Harris published a novel, and the last time he published one without Hannibal Lecter in it was 1974. So, ‘hotly anticipated’ is probably the phrase. The good news for readers of Cari Mora is that Hannibal is here in spirit if not in person. This is a very peculiar book, lavishly ridiculous in almost every respect and fully committed to the gothic extremes of human cruelty: just camp enough to skirt charges of outright porno-sadism.

Sounds like fun, right? Well, it is. But, as I say, it’s also mad as a badger. The way I found myself describing it to a friend is as Dr Fischer of Geneva retold by Carl Hiaasen and shot by Tobe Hooper. A character with a walk-on part eats a human kidney, for instance, just because it’s there. There are decapitations, multiple dismemberments and brains dripping off ceilings. Also, a certain amount of lyrical stuff about manatees and seabirds, and some comic business with a foul-mouthed cockatoo.

The titular heroine is a smoking-hot Latina girl (being smoking hot is a, if not the, most important part of her characterisation; everybody in the book fancies her), who also happens to have been trained and traumatised by FARC guerrillas as a young girl, so is handy with an automatic weapon. All she wants out of life is a house with a mango tree to call her own.

The main villain is (perhaps as a tribute to Dan Brown; perhaps as a means of further trolling members of the albino community) a hairless albino with peculiar toenails. His main job is the provision of homemade amputee sex-slaves to well-heeled sickos, with a side-hustle in organ-trafficking (waste not, want not!), and he loves his work. He has a big black boat and a set of very jazzy black scalpels, and he likes to relax by taking a shower and playing an ‘Aztec death whistle’ while watching the bodies of his victims dissolving in his glass-sided ‘liquid cremation machine’.

The main plot revolves around a fridge-sized, booby-trapped stash of Pablo Escobar’s gold, hidden in the basement of a fancy house on Miami Beach where Cari works as a housekeeper; though baldy’s rococo plans for surgically improving Cari’s looks also feature.

David Sexton has argued that the apparent badness of Harris’s later books is down to his writing in a medieval rather than modern realist mode. You may take your pick. Either way, what his fans look for is here— turned up to 11.

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