Red Dragon (Lecter Series #1), by Thomas Harris

My Copy: 0440206154 (image from goodreads.com)

Well, finally got a chance to tackle this series again. I’ve seen most of the films (haven’t tried Hannibal Rising yet, nor watched the t.v. show), but after watching a lot of first reactions to Silence of the Lambs, I figured it was on the mind and I should read the whole series now.

I’d started Red Dragon before, but my dad borrowed it and I never got the chance to finish it. Now I finally did, and it was worth the read.

Red Dragon follows special investigator for the FBI, Will Graham. He’s not a full-fledged agent, though certainly one of the best behavioral analysts out there. He was the one who figured out Dr. Hannibal Lecter’s crimes and got him caught, which puts him at odds with the doctor, a man who admires him as much as he’d like to kill him. But after his last encounter with Lecter, Graham has basically retired to live peacefully, but he gets dragged into the occasional case, much to the dismay of his wife. Jack Crawford, his old boss, has brought him back this time to get his insight before a killer dubbed “the Tooth Fairy” in the tabloids strikes and kills another family.

Graham joins the case, and there’s some great description of things from his perspective. You feel like you’re walking around with him and you get his agitation. Graham is a man with demons, haunted by failures and his ability to put himself in the killer’s shoes and mind. He’s twitchy at times and hyper-focused at others. And when he has trouble, he ends up having to get extra insights from Lecter while the Tooth Fairy (who considers himself the Red Dragon–hence the title–and you get a lot of his POV about him and his “becoming”) is searching for other victims.

The Red Dragon is Francis Dollarhyde, a man who was shuffled around his whole life by family members who either became mentally unstable or were neglectful in other ways, which has messed him up. He ends up meeting someone while planning his third murder night and wrestles with the memories and voices in his head, trying to figure out how to live this life and perhaps stop his old one of a haunted past and serial killing.

I got really into this book and just had to keep going. You’re tagging along through the investigation with Graham as he navigates the bureaucratic crap and tries to avoid being tabloid fodder for the scheming reporter Freddie Lounds just works. You get a feeling as time goes on that even if Graham is successful in helping close the case, because of his experiences, he’ll still feel like he’s lost in the end. His partnership with Crawford is one of part admiration, but also resentment on Will’s side for interrupting the peace. What’s interesting is those around Crawford when Graham isn’t there, and you get their subtle impressions of what they think about Crawford and his bringing Graham into the situation. Graham wants to go home and never have to do this again, and keep the tabloids at bay without provoking a serial killer to do worse.

I haven’t seen Manhunter in ages, so I can’t really say, but if you’ve seen the film Red Dragon, know that the book and film are pretty close as far as the story and events go. The timeline’s a bit condensed in the film and some characters are like composites.

Red Dragon is a good suspenseful read, but one that makes you feel like you learned something (without the exposition machine working overtime) about law enforcement decades ago and how they worked with behavioral analysis… and the limitations they had to deal with.

I hope Silence of the Lambs is just as good a book. Onward!

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