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on March 19, 2004
After viewing both film versions, Manhunter (1986), and Red Dragon, (2002) I thought it was necessary to finally read the book. It was fun to juggle all three works in my head but when I wanted to, Harris's gripping prose made it easy for me to tune out such comparisons and simply focus on the novel itself.
The basic plot is typical: retired detective, Will Graham must return from blissful reclusivity for "one last case" to catch Francis Dolarhyde (aka: Tooth Fairy, Red Dragon) before the psycho kills his next victim. The nuanced characters and attention to detail elevate the book from being anything but standard crime fare. Will Graham, Francis Dolarhyde, Freddy Lounds, Hannibal Lecter, Reba McClane, Jack Crawford are each so different in perspective, psychological stability, and motive that the book becomes an interesting blend of contrasting personalities. I especially liked the way the book explored the character of sleazy journalist Freddy Lounds in a series of subtly moving flashbacks. In such passages, the book possesses an uncanny humanity.
That said, I hold a few qualms with some of the choices Harris makes towards the end of the book. Throughout the beginning and middle, Harris focuses much energy on the fascinating Dolarhyde: his deformed apperance, traumatic childhood, desires, fears. Undoubtedly, a believable, compelling vision of strangely sympathetic albeit twisted psychopathy emerges. However, as the book progresses in its later stages, Harris positions Dolarhyde's psychology as a rather simplistic form of schizophrenia. His alter ego, the titular "Dragon" speaks to Dolarhyde and tells him to murder people, while the *real* Dolarhyde helplessly obeys the Dragon. The problem is that the Dragon becomes a character in of itself, and Dolarhyde's compulsion loses its grounding and humanity.
The second complaint I have is of the god awful denouement. Though I would never reveal what happens, this is perhaps the worst twist I have ever encountered in a book- not least because it's absurd and strives for the kind of perfunctory suspense found in cheap slasher flicks, but because it exists in direct contradiction of the emotional and climactic epiphany that had preceded it. No wonder neither film versions adapted this into their movies.
This is still an exceptional read. The characters are well-realized, the attention to detail is admirable, and (generally speaking) the suspense Harris creates is genuine and palpable. I loved the majority of this book.
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on June 14, 2015
“Red Dragon” by Thomas Harris is the first book in the Hannibal Lecter series, and follows FBI instructor Will Graham whose unique capability of entering criminals' minds makes him the perfect choice to track down the elusive killer, the Tooth Fairy. (Yes, now I see where shows like “Criminal Minds” got their inspiration from!)

Perceptive to the point of being an empath, Will's thinking is what sets the tone for this story, and sets it apart from regular crime stories. Inspired by one of “The Great Red Dragon” paintings by William Blake, a delusional loner aspires to the great Becoming. Driven by ambition, yet snubbed for years to a point beyond humiliation, a sleazy tabloid reporter becomes a focal point in a massive manhunt. Bound and behind bars, a famous killer still manages to dramatically turn the ordinary course of an investigation.

This was more than a search for a killer. This was profiling a person's entire life from a sordid past to a brutal present. And that was what made this such a fantastic read - unique and credible all at once. Every character had shades of hero and villain in them, every incident was fraught with gruesome horror and tragic tones. And that is why I was truly fascinated by the story of the red dragon, as it travelled from mystery to terror to its final denouement.
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on July 25, 2003
RED DRAGON, when it was first released in 1981, was a hit among critics but basically unpopular with readers. However, after 1991 this all changed with the release of the film adaption of Thomas Harris' novel THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. The first in Harris' series of novels featuring Hannibal Lecter, this only occasionally features the monster genius in a few scenes and he is not as memorable as in the later Hannibal novels (the forementioned THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS in 1988 and then HANNIBAL in 1999).
RED DRAGON follows Will Graham, a retired FBI detective who has the "gift" of seeing into the mind of serial killers. He is visited by FBI special agent Jack Crawford, who drams Graham back in to battle a mysterious and deformed serial killer nicknamed "The Tooth Fairy" and later the "Red Dragon". But before he can confront the Dragon Graham must visit Hannibal Lecter - the man he put away years before.
In RED DRAGON, it is proved that Thomas Harris is a master thriller. It is a suspense masterpiece, and one of my favorite novels. You can remain sure that it shall plague your nightmares with visions of mutilated women (Hannibal) and severed lips (Red Dragon). It is a thrilling monster of a book that shall remain in your memories for a long time.
Perhaps longer than you'd like.
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on July 6, 2003
Well, I wrote a review a while ago of this book before I had seen the movie, and promised to write another one after I had seen the film. Well, before I watched Jonathan Demme's "The Silence of the Lambs," I read the novels "The Silence of the Lambs" and "Hannibal." And the other day, I had a four film marathon which consisted of "Manhunter," "Red Dragon," "The Silence of the Lambs" and "Hannibal." I must say I was just a wee bit dissipointed with the film version of this novel. I thought it was a very good movie, and have already watched it three times, but I have been hearing so much about how it was the absolute SCARIEST and absolute GORIEST and absolute BEST movie ever made, and I felt a bit dissipointed on all of those levels. While I was dissipointed, I felt it was still an excellent film. Compared to Brian Cox's subtler and closer-to-the-book version of Hannibal Lector in "Manhunter," I thought Anthony Hopkins' interprtation of him in "The Silence of the Lambs" was a lot better, and much more memorable. Hopkins eats up the screen with panache and remains the most memorable thing in the movie. He is simply amazing. I think I enjoyed the movie a little more than the book because it was easier to understand what was going on visually. For example, every scene with Lector, Lector's escape, the showdown with Buffalo Bill and the autopsy scene were all much more effective here. In the novel, all we have are Hannibal's words and Clarice's words, but in the movie, we see Hannibal's expressions and Clarice's face and it was all much more interesting to me in the film. I don't really "picture" characters when I read a book, so I wasn't dissipointed with any of the actors in the film version. Ted Levine was really, REALLY scary as Jame Gumb and that trick he did with his richard near the end will haunt me forever. Jodie Foster was good as Clarice and Scott Glenn was suitable as Crawford (though I preferred Dennis Farina in "Manhunter"). Anyway, in comparision to the film, my opinion on the book hasn't changed much. I enjoyed the book the first time I read and now that I've seen the movie I still think it's good. Not good enough for five stars, but still quite good. Thomas Harris' writing style was unique and it seems like hwe put alot of research into the way the FBI functions because the whole book seemed quite realistic.
Anyway, my recommendation is to read the book then see the movie. The movie, I thought, was better, but the book is still a good read. Incidentally, I liked the novel "Hannibal" MUCH better, however.
John
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on June 10, 2003
Its probable that you've decided to check this out following the success of the adapted movie of the same name. I'd greatly prefered this to the film, my favourite in the book series over Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal.
This, the first in the series (though the third Hopkins films dramatised on celluloid) charts the battle of wits between FBI criminologist Will Graham and the self-titled Red Dragon, a brutal and elusive serial murderer. Fans of the other books in the series will be at home with Harris' style...the juxtaposition of Graham's progress with that of the killer, and the slow but lurid background of the criminal psyche. This exposition is marked by bouts of 'action'...usually involving someone giving up possession of their limbs.
Despite the advertising hype neither book or film are really about Hannibal Lector. Yes, he's in it, and oooh ahhh, he's pretty sinister. Just don't complain that you thought it was going to be all about Lector giving droll one liners and slurping. Harris keeps him figuratively and literally caged in this first outing.
Even without Hannibal's guide to good eating its still all rather bloody, and yes, Hercule Poirot would have been eaten long ago. But Will is still a vulnerable hero, and the tension and pace act as a constant page-turner. Despite revealing to us the identity of the killer, Harris never slackens off, and the bloody climax is expected but still shocking. My one applaud to the movie would be it's adaptation of the ending (the one in the book just wouldn't sell popcorn) but I still prefer 'knockout punch' the book delivers.
Recommended to any readers who enjoy their crime novels rare and gory, with a large pinch of suspense, and perfect before enjoying a nice chianti.
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on May 15, 2003
I may be 12, but I still can enjoy a good and sophisticated book. I have never seen the "Silence of the Lambs" movie, but I read the book. You see, I was checking out my grandma's book collection, and I happened to catch a glimpse of one book sitting on the shelf. I picked it up, dusted it off, and discovered it was "The Silence of the Lambs." I had heard the movie was really good, but I'd never heard anybody talk about a book. In fact, I didn't even know there was a book. I thought it might be an adaption of the movie, but the (really cool) cover said "The #1 New York Times Bestseller Is Now The Movie Event Of The Year." It was a pretty old book. My grandma let me borrow it, and I started reading it. It started a little slow, but quickly got pretty exciting. I think that it is best for me to review this book without seeing the movie, because I wn't make comparisions and stuff. Later, I'll write one after I've seen the movie.
Clarice Starling is an FBI trainee with a wierd past. She gets a call from Jack Crawford one day, and meets up with him. He tells her a killer only known as "Buffalo Bill" is on the loose and killing young women. He thinks that Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lector might know somehing. Hannibal is locked away in a very high security mental institution, where he amuses himself by reminiscing (sp?) about the past, drawing things and writing letters or words of wisdom. Hannibal is a genius, but an evil one. After eating a bit of a nurse, he's been locked away for a long time. Clarice meets with him, and discovers he is a true gentlemen. He is polite, uses appropriate grammar, but happens to have a fondness for eating meat that's not quite the kind we get at the store. He agrees to help her, if she'll exchange information about her past. With every complicated hint, she gets closer to finding out who Buffalo Bill really is and where he is. The clock is ticking, he has just kidnapped the senator's daughter, and it's up to her to solve the mystery!
This was a good book. I didn't think it was great, but I enjoyed it and finished it quickly. I'm aware that there are other Lector books (and movies) which include "Red Dragon" and "Hannibal." I haven't read these. I don't think it's important, because I understood the plot fine. I thought the creepy thing about this movie was that it was realistic and could actually happen. There are tons of sickos in this world like Buffalo Bill, and some evil geniuses like Hannibal Lector. My favorite part of this story was the final showdown with Buffalo Bill and Clarice Starling. The suspense leading up to it was great.
The way Thomas Harris writes was very strange. It was written almost like something you would read in a police file. It sounded factual and not fictional. I think that added to its sense of realism. I liked the character of Starling, but I found her a little dull. Maybe in the movie she's better.
Anyway, I'm gonna go have a movie marathon of Lector (in this order: "Manhunter," "Red Dragon," "The Silence Of The Lambs," and "Hannibal"). This was a cool book and I think you should read it.
Incidentally, the one my grandma had was old, and had a cover way cooler than the ones now. It showed half of Clarice Starling's face on the left side, tinted blue. On the right side was half of Hannibal Lector's face. The moth symbol was between them, and there are wings covering their lips. If you find this at an old used book store, get it because it is way cooler that the ones out now.
Hope my review helped. I'll write another after I see the movie.
John
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on January 13, 2003
Our darkest fears come to life in this riveting novel as we follow the case of the "Tooth Fairy," a serial killer on the loose who targets suburbian families as his victims. Will Graham, an FBI agent assigned to the case because of his unique ability to break inside the head of the killer, enlists the help of Hannibal Lecter, the criminally insane and exceptionally brilliant killer we met in Silence of the Lambs (incidently, this novel precedes that novel and film).
If you want to be thrilled, this book will not disappoint. It scares and even shocks you from the moment you pick it up to the moment you turn the last page. It also brings in quite a bit of forensic science, which is always fascinating (remember this was written long before the days of CSI). As a result, the book offers a very straight-forward approach to story telling, which is all this novel really needs. Thomas Harris is brave enough to even break inside the head of the killer himself, which is strangely reminiscent of Will Graham's relationship to the killer. Though in many cases, the approach of getting closer to the killer can ruin the suspense and mystery, it pans out surprisingly well in this novel, as we ourselves get into the head of the killer (at times, it feels like it's more than you can take). But then I suppose we must remind ourselves that Thomas Harris is the man who created Hannibal Lecter, one of the most terrifying characters in literary and film history.
Harris also explores the relationship between killer and killer, cop and cop, and more interestingly, cop and killer, which demonstrates that the line between the two is sometimes blurred. This is one of many unsettling ideas Harris introduces in the novel - which causes us to really question how black and white the difference between good and evil really is.

I highly recommend this book - you will be entertained all throughout. However, reading this at night is not recommended if you scare easily!
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on December 19, 2002
As I have seen the film of the same name many times, I already understood the gruesome goal that piqued Jame Gumb's mind as he killed each of his victims and earned the name 'Buffalo Bill'. However, being aware of the murderer's intentions did not detract from the overall reading, rather it allowed me the freedom to analyze Harris' work from a craftsman's perspective and pay closer attention to the baited hints Hannibal Lector tosses to Clarice Starling akin to bits of bread flicked to greedy birds. These scenes between Lector and Starling are electrifying in their simplicity and nuanced with a psychological tension so taut it leaves the reader gritting his teeth and sucking in his breath. Harris' juxtaposition of Lector's insidious disregard for anything that barricades his way, with his refined tastes and superior brain powers creates a personality that evokes a fascinating blend of revulsion and admiration. Like Starling, we are titillated and repulsed--little flies in Lector's spiderweb.

The film covers the novel's ground to near perfection, so anyone who has seen and enjoyed the film knows what to expect. Crawford's character in the book is fleshed out with a little more detail regarding his personal life. Such details plunge the reader deeper into the dark world of criminal investigation where sleepless nights and stark conditions supercede any of the press-generated glory from a real time quality-of-life standpoint.
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on December 16, 2002
While I was living in Poland for a year, teaching English, my family out of sympathy or love or both, mailed me a box of English books. One of the books was "Hannibal" the third part and at the time the most popular of Thomas Harris' series. I became engaged by it and read the entire thing, even the exceedingly gruesome parts with Mason Verger. I guess I'm going in reverse here because I recently purchased "Red Dragon". As it is so often in trilogies the first one is usually the best and this series is no exception. Harris' profound knowledge of investigative and forensic science is impressive. He uses techniques and terminology that sound modern today even though the novel was written in '81. I bought this book on Friday and today being the following Tueday I have already read through 300 pages of it. This book is hard to put down. One of the main reasons I bought it was to see what the "real" ending is since both film adaptions of the book ended differently (On a side note 'Manhunter' was the better of the two). I was pleased to see that the literay perspective was the most detailed, providing the reader with much more background into Francis Dolarhyde's life and Freddy Lounds' motivation. Although I have not gotten to the end yet, I think it's safe to say at this point that this book is excellent and any fan of thriller/horror novels should enjoy it. If you are squeamish about violence then you should try "Harry Potter" because unless you are prepared for Harris' sometimes morbid writing details as I was, this book may shock you at times.
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on November 10, 2002
RED DRAGON by Thomas Harris
Here's the novel that introduced to the world the character of Hannibal Lecter, the highly intelligent, evil, witty, charming man-eater that played a large part in the two follow up novels, The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal. However, Thomas Harris' RED DRAGON was not about Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Instead, it centered round Will Graham, a man with demons of his own, and who helped put Dr. Hannibal behind bars.
Will is called out of retirement by the FBI to help solve a serial murder case. Two families have been murdered, and they think that only Will has the knack to help them find the killer. Will takes the case, despite his wife and stepson's objections, and takes up temporary residence in Georgia, where the 2nd family, The Leeds', were murdered. As he does a walk through of the family's home, he slowly sees how they were killed. His highly intuitive mind is able to recreate each individual murder. The murders are gruesome, and Harris does not hold back with the descriptions of each family member found dead in the house.
While the movie let the audience try to guess who the murderer was during the early parts of the film, Harris tells the reader who murdered the two families within the first 100 pages. Francis Dolarhyde is a shy man who works for a film developing company called Gateway Film Laboratory. He's got access to hundreds of home videos that come through their labs to be processed, and is then sent back to their original families. An early scene of Dolarhyde finds him watching one of these home made videos, but he has spliced it with his own videos: the murders of these same families. He watches these over and over, turned on by the gruesome scenes that show him modeling with the dead carcasses in front of the camera.
As the story progresses, Will visits Hannibal Lecter, who is now doing jail-time in maximum security. With the help of Lecter's cunning mind, Will slowly finds the trail that leads him to Dolarhyde.
Thomas Harris created a great monster in Hannibal Lecter but the stars of RED DRAGON are Francis Dolarhyde and Will Graham. Harris created two very developed characters, giving the reader insight to what made both men tick. A lot of flashbacks help the reader understand why Dolarhyde became the monster that he was in the present, and oddly enough, I felt a lot of pity and sympathy for this serial killer. I found that I did not like the Will Graham character that Thomas Harris created in his book, preferring the movie version better. Not that I found myself rooting for the killer, but it was an odd sensation finding myself liking a mass murderer and wishing that someone would save him.
Overall, I enjoyed this fast pace murder mystery. For those of the faint-of-heart, this book is not recommended. For those who love a great gory murder book, this is for you!
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