Red Dragon is the book that started it all, the one that gave us the cannibal we can’t help but love. It also gave us a thrilling read, where we dive into not one, but two different minds, one of the killer and the other of the man hunting the killer.
Short nitty-gritty plot description from the back cover is as follows: In the realm of psychological suspense, Thomas Harris stands alone. Exploring both the nature of human evil and the nerve-racking anatomy of a forensic investigation, Harris unleashes a frightening vision of the dark side of our well-lighted world. In this extraordinary novel, which preceded The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal, Harris introduced the unforgettable character Dr. Hannibal Lecter. And in it, Will Graham–the FBI man who hunted Lecter down–risks this sanity and his life to duel a killer called the… Red Dragon.
Released in 1981, Red Dragon tells the story of Will Graham helping investigate the murders of two different families, taking place on two separate occasions. Agent-in-Charge of the Behavioral Science Unit, Jack Crawford, Graham’s old friend, seeks out Graham’s help, knowing that he has the uncanny ability to get into the mind of a killer and think like him. Graham at first is a little hesitant to agree, but decides to help nevertheless. After checking out the crime scenes, he realizes that he needs to get back into the right mind set and in order do that, he needs to seek advice from the last psychopath he caught, Hannibal Lecter and in doing so, he unknowingly becomes the target of the killer, known by two different names, The Tooth Fairy or Red Dragon.
The wonderful thing about Red Dragon, is we get to know the killer right away and really get into his head and find out how he ticks and what is making him do these terrible things. Yes, he is a psychopath and yes he needs to be taken down, but by having Thomas Harris spend so much time on him and his past, we start to feel for him and his damaged childhood. What he does as an adult is unspeakable, but it’s almost inevitable that he would turn out this way, due to the abuse he received as a kid.
We also spend a good amount of time with Will Graham, the retired FBI agent and the man that caught the now infamous Hannibal Lecter (more on him later). Graham is a flawed character and one who has a hard time living a normal life. He certainly tries too, by fixing boat motors in Florida with his wife and stepson, but when Jack Crawford comes calling and pleads for him to help catch this sadistic murderer, you can see that Graham is only thinking of the families of who he can save, so he agrees to help. He knows fair well that everything in his life could change, but he does it with little hesitation. Unfortunately, things do change for Graham, after he pays a visit to his old friend Hannibal.
In the novel Red Dragon, Graham only met Hannibal once while investigating, the unknown at the time, Hannibal murders and it’s during that meeting, that he suspects Lecter and Lecter attacks him, nearly killing him. So, this may or may not disappoint you to find out, but Hannibal Lecter is barely in it. Yes he does play a big role in the development of the story, but there are long stretches of him not present. This doesn’t bother me, as Red Dragon is solely about Graham and The Tooth Fairy; we have The Silence of the Lambs for more delectable stories with Hannibal Lecter. Still, for Hannibal lovers, this could hurt your overall enjoyment.
I don’t have anything negative to say about Red Dragon, if anything, the only thing that really bothers me, is that we will never get to see anymore of Will Graham in the later novels, as Thomas Harris felt that Graham’s story was finished and moved on to Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs. Thankfully, we do have the awesome new TV series, Hannibal, to get our fill of him; here’s hoping NBC is wise and doesn’t cancel the show. So, I highly recommend cracking the spine on this one, if you haven’t already, as it never lets up to the thrilling ending and leaves you wanting more once the last page is turned.