Forget spooky supernatural. Thomas Harris Hannibal Lecter books, beginning with his first foray into sociopathic nightmares back in 1981 is more frightening than any vampire/ghost/zombie story because Harris monsters are disturbingly real.
Thomas Harris is probably most famous for creating the charming, attractive character Hannibal the Cannibal Lecter. In The Red Dragon, Harris gives us a first glance at Dr. Lecter when Will Graham, retired FBI Special Agent calls on him at the insane asylum he is incarcerated at to seek his aid in apprehending the FBIs newest serial killer, the so-called Tooth Fairy.
This book is not about Lecter per se, but Lecter does play a major factor in the outcome of this novel despite his limited coverage.
Will Graham, retired FBI profiler (back before such things existed as they do now) is called back to the FBI to assist in apprehending the Tooth Fairy, a serial killer who gruesomely slaughters whole families to facilitate his becoming The Red Dragon he sees in William Blakes painting, The Great Red Dragon And The Woman Clothed With The Sun.
I like Harris characterization of Graham. Harris portrays Graham as reluctant, but determined to stop this evil, even at the cost of the limited happiness hes found in Florida with his new wife and stepson. He is frequently unhappy, but his devotion to the case is unwavering. He has strength but can believe in nothing but the weakness of the human condition, especially his own, never admitting his gift to see beyond the surface and get to the truth of any matter. Though Harris did a good job painting Graham, I never feel any real sense of sympathy toward him.
Dr. Hannibal Lecter is Harris true mark on the world. Termed Hannibal the Cannibal by the tabloid presses after his arrest, he is a gifted, unfailingly courteous, genius psychiatrist who generally murders to the betterment of learned society. Though technically and arguably a sociopath of the extreme, most mental health professionals can only agree on the term monster. Harris brilliantly paints Lecters evil on no uncertain terms while making him enticingly seductive. Hey, what can I say? Momma likes the sociopaths.
I also like how Harris gives the reader extensive insight into The Tooth Fairys life. He gives us a name, Francis Dolarhyde, and a past history (abandonment at birth, followed by a comfortably hellish upbringing by his nutcase maternal grandmother). Dolarhyde believes that he must kill in a very specific manner to become The Red Dragon. Harris makes us sympathetic to Dolarhydes plight. I found myself several times feeling bad for him and wanting to reach out to this character and get him some serious help.
Harris does a great job in making us feel empathy for the lesser characters in The Red Dragon whether they occupy whole chapters or just a few pages.
What I loved most about The Red Dragon was Harris' deeply-buried-right-out-in-the-open comparison between Blakes actual painting and the current circumstances of Dolarhydes life. Three or four times the book mentions that Blakes The Great Red Dragon And The Woman Clothed With The Sun could not be displayed often because light would rapidly break down the painting. Similarly, when Dolarhyde meets a woman, Reba McClane, who accepts his physical defects with genuine forthrightness, as she herself is significantly physically impaired, his Becoming starts to break down as well. I thought it beautiful underplayed on Harris part.
Harris' pacing is rarely off, with The Red Dragon reading more like a fast-paced thriller/suspense movie than a full-sized fiction novel.
If you want to be quickened, excited, mortified, and terrified, pick up The Red Dragon. Its a permanent keeper in my collection so that I can return to it again and again.
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