Genre: Police Procedural/Psychological Thriller
Order RED DRAGON here
"They say he's a sociopath, because they don't know what else to call him. He has some of the characteristics of what they call a sociopath.He has no remorse or guilt at all. And he had the first and worst sign - sadism to animals as a child."
"But he doesn't have any of the other marks," Graham said. "He wasn't a drifter, he had no history of trouble with the law. He wasn't shallow or exploitive in small things, like most sociopaths are. He's not insensitive. They don't know what to call him.His electroencephalograms show some odd patterns, but they haven't been able to tell much from them."
"What would you call him?" Springfield asked.
"Just to yourself, what do you call him?"
"He's a monster."
It's no secret to my long time readers, I don't like serial killer novels all that much. It's a muse that's been to hell and back. Everything about it has been said and done. The genre has been milked to the maximum of its capabilities, so 99% of the new stories that come out happen to be a spin on something that already exists and in the worst cases, is already very popular. It's with that in mind, that I started reading RED DRAGON, which is more or less the "patient zero" of this outbreak. The 1981 novel introduced the character of Hannibal Lecter, who still is today the landmark psychopath in pop culture. Over the follows twenty-five years, Thomas Harris wrote three more novels featuring his iconic character, who would all be adapted to the silver screen and therefore would scare two generations stiff. I did not expect to like RED DRAGON much. I thought it would be some straightforward best-selling writing in the vein of Dan Brown. I was wrong. Oh God, I was so wrong.
You may not be familiar with RED DRAGON's storyline as it's its sequel THE SILENT OF THE LAMBS that got the most success. The protagonist is Will Graham, an all-star FBI profiler, specialized in catching the most twisted serial killers. After catching the most famous of them all, Hannibal Lecter, nicknamed by the press "Hannibal the Cannibal" and almost getting murdered in the process, he retires to become a diesel engine mechanics in Florida. But as Spiderman said, "with great powers come great responsibilities" and Graham is summoned back into action by his old friend from the Bureau Jack Crawford to stop a new killer nicknamed "The Tooth Fairy" for his habit to bite his victims. Graham accepts the job, but the mind of this killer is particularly chaotic and finds himself locked out. To get to him, he will need the help of the forensics psychologist he worked with on his last case, Hannibal Lecter.
I did not expect this novel to be that good. At all. First, Thomas Harris is a gorgeous writer. His prose is good, not great, but his understand of storytelling mechanics are second to none. He can craft a breathtaking out of nothingness. It flows almost better than the images of a movie. In the beginning, there is a scene where Will announces his wife Molly he's leaving to work a new case and in between two dialogue lines, Harris highlights one simple detail. The beautiful sunset. It's a detail, but it's the perfect detail for that particular discussion as it has potent metaphorical value. The sun sets on Will's perfect life and he's about to enter darkness. It's this attention to detail that makes RED DRAGON stand out so much. They are scarce and never useless. When they don't make the plot advance, they are highlighting character, making the narrative deeper or simply help making the chapters tighter and better wrapped.
Dolarhyde felt that Lecter knew the unreality of the people who die to help you in these things - understood that they are not flesh, but light and air and color and quick sounds quickly ended when you change them. Like balloons of color bursting. That they are more important for the changing, more important than the lives they scrabble after, pleading.
Dolarhyde bore screams as a sculptor bears dust from the beaten stone.
Lecter was capable of understanding that blood and breath were only elements undergoing change to fuel his Radiance. Just as the source of light is burning.
Another crazy aspect of RED DRAGON is how deep Thomas Harris goes into character psychology. After two hundred pages, you tell yourself "wow, this is pretty deep", but you have seen NOTHING. The novel operates with the snowball effect. The more you read, the deeper you get into the characters minds and the scarier it gets. Harris spends almost a hundred pages going through the fascinating background of Francis Dolarhyde before setting up the final moments. Will Graham's background is also fleshed out and will bring you to places you wouldn't expect. It's the very source of the debate about the ending of the book, still ongoing today. I can say I understand Hannibal Lecter better now, too. First I thought he was only a cannibal serial killer, but he's much more complex and inscrutable. I won't say more about him and leave you the pleasure to discover his terrifying mind.
Ultimately, RED DRAGON is another serial killer novel. But if you have to read one, please, do yourself a favor and read that one. It's also a great psychological thriller and a police procedural that won't leave you bored still with the life of lab technicians and forensics explanations. Thomas Harris is a very, very gifted writer and his mind wanders in the darkest places. He has the magical touch for accurate character psychology and tight scene building. That alone makes RED DRAGON a pleasure to read. I might've never read this if it wasn't for the Back To The Classics 2012 challenge, but am I ever happy I did. There is so much more to Thomas Harris' writing than serial killers. They are merely a vehicle for him to discuss the most visceral fears in humans. Read it for yourself and find out. You'll thank me after.