First published back in October of 1981, US author Thomas Harris’ novel ‘Red Dragon’ formed the first instalment in the now hugely popular ‘Hannibal Lector’ series.  The book was followed on by three further novels – ‘The Silence Of The Lambs’ (1988), ‘Hannibal’ (1999) and ‘Hannibal Rising’ (2005) as well as having been adapted into a feature length film twice – ‘Manhunter’ (1986) and ‘Red Dragon’ (2002).

DLS Synopsis:
The media have dubbed him the Tooth Fairy.  A savage serial killer who has already killed the entirety of two seemingly random families.  FBI agent Jack Crawford has been assigned the case.  Crawford knows that he needs to get into the head of the killer in order to catch him.  He needs to know what sort of man they are dealing with here.  And so he enlists the help of the highly revered criminal profiler who was responsible for capturing the infamous serial killer Hannibal Lector three years previously.  Now retired, having suffered both physically and mentally in the pursuit of Lector, Will Graham is understandably reluctant to take on a role in the case.  But his conscience gets the better of him and he finally agrees to do what he can to help.

And so Graham visits the two horrific crime scenes, hoping to start the process of establishing a profile of the Tooth Fairy.  What he finds is disturbing but no more revealing to the nature of the killer.  And it’s not before long before he realises that he must seek Lector’s help if he is going to have a chance at successfully profiling and ultimately capturing this sadistic killer.

Meanwhile the Tooth Fairy believes that he is becoming something greater, something stronger, something with more meaning and power.  But his personal and psychological struggles are at war.  He believes in a greater power.  He is on his way to becoming The Great Red Dragon.  But in order to get there, to accomplish his final transformation, he must change more innocents.  Transform them from living, breathing families, to quiet dead ones.

The FBI believes that the next attack will occur when there is once again a full moon.  Time is running out, and the constant presence of the notorious tabloid paparazzi Freddy Lounds is doing them no favours.  But when correspondence, seemingly between the Tooth Fairy and Lector himself, are discovered in the Chesapeake State Hospital prison cell of the incarcerated psychopath, the tables are suddenly turned.

Graham and his family are once again thrust into the very jaws of danger.  The Tooth Fairy is out there and working up to his next horrific murder.  And the police’s attempts at luring the psychologically damaged killer are more than just a little risky.

Time is running out before the next innocents are slaughtered...

DLS Review:
Although there has been a great deal of hype surrounding the novel’s sequel ‘Silence Of The Lambs’ (1988), this first instalment into what is often referred to as the ‘Hannibal Lector series’ has been an often overlooked gem.  Although the novel is the first book to include Harris’ popular antagonist, the psychotic Dr Hannibal Lector, the inclusion of the character is only relatively minor in comparison to the novel’s principal antagonist – the Tooth Fairy.  Indeed, once again in ‘Silence Of The Lambs’ (1988), it’s really Buffalo Bill who is in the ‘hot seat’ (so to speak), although Lector is given a little more of the limelight in this sequel than he had been in ‘Red Dragon’.

Instead of going down the ‘whodunit’ route, Harris has instead taken the novel down a two-sided spilt perspective, showing both sides of the coin.  Firstly we have the William Graham point-of-view, where the reader follows the FBI department as they desperately try to narrow down who the killer is and ultimately on towards capturing him.  From this perspective we see Graham’s interaction with the likes of Hannibal Lector, the Freddie Loundes trap being set, and the multiple threads and angles that Graham explores to try to pull a solid profile of the Tooth Fairy together.

The second side to the tale is perhaps the more intriguing.  Here we are treated (starting from early on so this is in no way a spoiler) to the behind-the-killer’s-eyes perspective where the reader is shown much of the early upbringing of the killer – Francis Dollarhyde, the torments and ridicule that gradually went on to form the man he will soon turn out to be, along with a view of Dollarhyde’s delusional goal.  This powerfully emotive insight exposes a complex and disturbing character psyche, with an obsessive attachment to William Blake’s painting ‘The Great Red Dragon And The Women Clothed With The Sun’ and how Dollarhyde believes he is gradually transforming (or ‘becoming’) said dragon.

Harris purposefully toys with the reader’s growing (and ultimately conflicting) sympathies for Dollarhyde, creating a complex lattice of emotional toil for the reader to progressively fight through.  It feels wrong to emphasise with Dollarhyde to such a degree.  To feel protective over who he is (or was).  To build sympathetic bonds towards this unfortunate character.  And Harris really plays upon this underlying principle to its full potential.  And so although the novel is a gritty thriller at heart, the book still serves to illuminate a number of difficult questions around this subject.  This particular angle is certainly not overly worked upon, but rather Harris occasionally builds upon such open-ended questions which the reader can ponder as the tale pushes ever onwards.

What particularly stands out from the novel is the way in which it seems so very plausible.  Nothing appears too contrived, too outlandish, or indeed exaggerated merely to inject some fast-paced action.  Coupled with some outstanding character development, the tale as a whole becomes incredibly true-to-life, with a storyline that seems all too (scarily) believable.  Okay, so the likes of Hannibal Lector as the uber-serial-killer are perhaps swaying more towards a modern day fictional monster than that of a true to life serial killer.  However there is still room for believability.  Harris knows how to make the novel gritty, packed to the rafters with action and suspense, whilst still marinating an air of respectable belief.

The novel ends in a truly honest and befitting manner.  Harris isn’t afraid to take on an unashamedly downbeat and more realistic ending in order to stick with the format that he has used throughout the novel.  And hell does it work!  Harris pulls no punches in taking on a monstrous finale that ultimately concludes like a brick to the reader’s face.

All in all ‘Red Dragon’ is nothing short of an utterly spectacular thriller, bringing together a complex weave of characterisation, haunting insight into the killer at large and ultimately an inner conflict that ends with an almighty showdown.  The tale deserves all of the recognition it has received (and perhaps more so).

The novel runs for a total of 480 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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