BEST LOCAL WRITER Thomas Harris
The creator of one of modern fiction's most deeply etched, enduring, and beloved -- if that's the right adjective to describe a cannibalistic serial killer -- characters lives right here, somewhere in Miami-Dade County. Thomas Harris, the author of four novels, three of them devoted at least in part to the escapades of murderous psychiatrist Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter, is extraordinarily reclusive. What is known is Harris's painstaking attention to realistic detail; he spent nearly six years trailing FBI profilers in Quantico, Virginia, and studied the case histories of hundreds of criminally insane killers before Red Dragon was published in 1981. Less widely praised is the author's vivid, expressive wordsmithing, which far exceeds the standard of even good police procedurals and is less evocative of the hardboiled street toughness of James Elroy than it is the nightmarishly gory surrealism of Edgar Allan Poe and Clive Barker. It's a prose style made outstanding by an omniscient narrator's keen observation of personal details and nuanced behaviors -- the very foundation of the study of abnormal psychology. Jonathan Demme's cinematic adaptation of the second Lecter tale, 1991's The Silence of the Lambs, cemented the psychopath's role as an American horror genre figure. Ted Tally's script was awesome, but some of its most lingeringly piercing phrases came directly from Harris. When Hannibal Lecter first meets the fledgling but capable FBI agent Clarice Starling, his insult isn't macabre, merely cruel, but nearly feminine in its precision: "You know what you look like to me, with your good bag and your cheap shoes? You look like a rube. A well-scrubbed, hustling rube with a little taste ... you're not more than one generation from poor white trash." Starling eventually earns Lecter's support in her casework and even his affection -- a dubious achievement -- but Harris eschews happiness for his protagonists. At the conclusion of Hannibal, Starling ends up dining on fava beans, Chianti, and a human liver with Lecter; an earlier hero, Jack Crawford, is also driven to a desperate breakdown. Peter Webber, who made Girl with a Pearl Earring, is preparing to shoot Young Hannibal in Prague while Harris is writing the novel Behind the Mask, which will be published this fall. The characters in the Lecter series have no connection to Florida. However, in Harris's first book, 1975's Black Sunday, Palestinian terrorists and a disgruntled military veteran create chaos at a Super Bowl held at the Orange Bowl.