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Cari Mora


Cari Mora

- Click here to read Ray Palen's review.


Review #1 by Joe Hartlaub

It has been 13 years since we have last seen a book from Thomas Harris. This is his longest stretch between works, which is only one of the factors that makes the publication of CARI MORA so special. It is also the first novel since his debut (BLACK SUNDAY, back in 1975) that has not featured a certain murderous doctor named Hannibal Lecter. Still, his latest certainly contains many of the elements that made the Lecter books so popular and should be a huge success with his readers.

The title of this long-anticipated work refers to its protagonist. Cari Mora is a young woman who, as a seven-year-old, was violently and involuntarily conscripted into the so-called and self-styled revolutionary army of New Colombia in South America. The narrative occasionally bounces back in time to give readers snippets of Cari’s story of how she acquired her skill set (also gradually revealed over the course of the novel), which is more “jungle smart” than “street smart.” As is demonstrated soon enough, the former is harder to acquire but better to have than the latter.

"[E]verything in CARI MORA will stay with you long after you read it, and perhaps will make you yearn for another tale featuring at least some of these characters."

While she has gained some succor living with her aunt and cousin after an arduous relocation to Miami, Cari still bears the emotional and physical scars of her experiences. There is a stark duality to her employment situation. She enjoys her work at a seabird rescue station --- which she takes with a natural affinity --- while her job as the domestic caretaker of a mansion once owned by drug cartel overlord Pablo Escobar is mind-numbing in its ordinariness, relieved only by the abandoned decorations and odd collections of those who have owned and lived in the million-dollar digs since Escobar’s downfall.

However, the routine changes with the arrival of what is ostensibly a film crew that will use the mansion as the backdrop for a movie project. The real intent of the interlopers is to locate and acquire the cache of cartel gold that is rumored to be hidden on the premises. A monster named Hans-Peter Schneider is at the helm of the project. His primary income stream consists of satisfying the unspeakable appetites of wealthy patrons, a task for which he is especially suited because his clients’ imaginations are exceeded only by his own.

Hans-Peter is immediately taken with Cari, an attraction that plays out over the course of the book and is most certainly not reciprocal. There are any number of twists, turns and double-dealings throughout the story, with the resolution of multiple plot points occurring in stages that extend to the last page.

CARI MORA is more than complete in and of itself. There are, however, a couple of issues that might provide fodder for another book or two down the road. While all of Harris’ works have been memorable to varying degrees (or provided the basis for film versions that have been so), he has not exactly been prolific in the past, at least in terms of what he has had published (six books over the last 44 years). Certainly, however, this new novel is enough to satisfy Harris’ fan base at this point. It bears the same themes of his Lecter books --- strong woman vs. really, really twisted man --- but Hans-Peter, in his own way, truly kicks it up a notch. There is one vignette in which things have not gone well for him. The description of his venting is as chilling as anything that Harris has written.

This may not be literary or “serious” writing, but everything in CARI MORA will stay with you long after you read it, and perhaps will make you yearn for another tale featuring at least some of these characters.


Review #2 by Ray Palen

“Two men talking in the middle of the night. They are 1,040 miles apart. One side of each face is lit by a cell phone. They are two half-faces talking in the dark.”

This passage opens CARI MORA and proves why Thomas Harris is so accomplished at what he does. It could be the skill he has in drawing the reader deep into each scene he creates by way of his ace wordsmithing. It also could be the fact that by releasing so few books --- just six since his first, BLACK SUNDAY, in 1975 --- he has made his work that much more coveted. Most likely, though, it is the pedigree he has earned via the creation of one of the most infamous and highly recognizable fictional characters of all time: the psychopathic/cannibal Dr. Hannibal Lecter. In fact, Lecter has been featured in four of Harris’ novels and is so renowned internationally that readers will scramble to gobble up anything he publishes.

That brings us to his latest novel and his first since HANNIBAL RISING in 2006. If that introductory paragraph is any indication, then readers will quickly lose themselves inside the wondrous prose and fully imagined characters that are to follow. With the creation of Cari Mora, Harris may have written his strongest heroine to date. Clarice Starling had her moments as she battled human monsters like Hannibal Lecter and Buffalo Bill, but her relationship with Lecter was a strange one. She actually succumbed to him at some point when they seemed to be working together.

Twenty-five-year-old Cari is a resilient young woman who was born into a hard and cruel life, and has the physical scars to prove it. She is living and working in Miami under a flimsy Temporary Protected Status ruled over by ICE. At the age of 11, she was taken from her village at gunpoint and forced to join with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC). She was trained in full guerrilla tactics and proved to be extremely valuable with her display of both intestinal fortitude and dexterity.

"...a novel that is extremely well-written from start to finish and gives us a heroine to both root for and respect."

At the start of the novel, Cari is working at one of her many jobs: taking care of a mansion off the Miami coast. As caretaker of the house, she has seen it rented out by all types of characters who can afford to play there. It has been used for parties and even for the filming of pornographic movies. However, the latest group renting the house is led by a completely hairless German named Hans-Peter Schneider. Hans-Peter has his eyes on Cari from the start and has some ill intentions in store for her. Cari has indicated that she would only take care of the house during the day and does not plan to ever be there at night with Hans-Peter and his men. They are focused on another mission that involves the mansion and a hidden cache of cartel gold they wish to dig out.

Cari continues to juggle her many day jobs, with her work at the Pelican Harbor Seabird Station being her favorite. She would love to finish her degree and become a veterinarian, but first she needs to secure permanent U.S. residency to make these dreams a reality. Her only family in Miami are a cousin and an aunt who she sometimes stayed with when she didn't have a live-in job. Meanwhile, the two men who were talking on the phone at the start of the novel, Don Ernesto and Jesús Villarreal, know that Hans-Peter and his crew of ex-cons will locate the hidden gold at the mansion. The two are also aware that, once they find the container holding the precious treasure, they will not know the combination to open it. Don and Jesús continue to watch them very closely.

Things begin to spiral out of control when Cari shows up at the mansion and finds a literal bloodbath by poolside and in the pool house. There is a headless body that she recognizes as her friend, Antonio. The ex-cons try to silence Cari, but she gets the jump on them. She shoots one in the face and then, attacked by the huge Umberto, is able to shoot him twice underwater as he tries to drown her in the pool. She gets away, but realizes that this is far from over and the evil Hans-Peter will not stop until he has her in his clutches.

Detective Sergeant Terry Robles is assigned to the case and also wants to find both Hans-Peter and Cari. He recognizes a gang tattoo on one of the corpses and understands that things may erupt quickly into full-scale war. Harris has always excelled at the depiction of the darkest side of the human psyche, and Hans-Peter is a character with whom he has a lot of fun. Among the many hobbies with which he is involved is organ harvesting and selling. At one point, he sells two kidneys from a recently deceased female to a high-paying customer who in turn uses one of the kidneys and eats the other. I guess it wouldn't be a Thomas Harris novel without someone consuming a human organ.

Even when Cari is backed by the local cartel head and receives the unlikely support of Robles, she is still a target for Hans-Peter, who is now openly obsessed with her. Organ harvesting is just part of what he has in mind for Cari once he captures her. The inevitable confrontation is a good one and well worth waiting for. The question is not so much whether or not Cari will come out in one piece, but if she will be able to maintain her focus on obtaining her personal American Dream --- a home, citizenship and a career --- without completely losing herself in the process.

CARI MORA is Harris' response to the Me Too movement. He already has proven his mastery of complex female characters in the form of Clarice Starling, but the protagonist and title character here takes things to another level. She succeeds against a slew of really bad men in a culture where she is expected to just keep her mouth shut and do her job. Cari Mora refuses to keep silent or turn the other cheek. The result is a novel that is extremely well-written from start to finish and gives us a heroine to both root for and respect.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub and Ray Palen on May 24, 2019

Cari Mora
by Thomas Harris

  • Publication Date: September 22, 2020
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 1538750120
  • ISBN-13: 9781538750124