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Is dr. Lecter criminal? Of course. Cannibalism, no matter how sophisticated it is performed, is definitely illegal. But Dr. Lecter's complex nature makes it impossible for you to see him as the real enemy. There arises a peculiar understanding between the reader and Dr. Lecter.
Some chooses to catch criminals and putting them in jail or let the state execute them. Hannibal prepares delicious meals of them. As Barney, a supervisor who took care of dr. Lecter in six years while he was imprisoned, once said: "He (Hannibal) once told me, that if it was possible, he'd prefer to eat rude people. 'Free ranging uncivilized', he called them." - Hannibal P. 85.
Are we really able to hate a man, seeking perfectionism while defending himself and the high culture in the world? Can you really hate a man who admittedly kills, but only in self-defense or to curb corruption and decadence?
Thomas Harris does a wonderful job, portraying a complex man that really appreciate and love the beauty of music, architecture and food and at the same time cultivate his dark tendencies, should the opportunity arise - and in some strange way, at the same time, are able to unite these diametrically opposite sides of his personality.
Read 'Hannibal' if you want a deep insight into culture and extravagance mixed with cynicism and merciless revenge. And... by the way...Enjoy your meal.