Red Dragon by Thomas Harris

This week we read Red Dragon by Thomas Harris. This is by far one of my favorite horror novels. It ranks up there on my list with America Psycho by Peter Bradford Ellis. There are so many things I loved about this book. The characters where are richly done and unique. That can be hard when there are multiple characters, and some only appear for a page or two. Each word was chosen to invoke an emotion or set off an image in the reader’s mind. If you haven’t listened to this one on audio, I highly recommend that you do.
The book follows the story of Special Agent Will Graham as he purses the Tooth Fairy aka Red Dragon. Now, Graham is not your typical hero. He is almost an anti-hero. He doesn’t want to help with the investigation because he knows it will disrupt his life with Molly and Willy. Throughout the novel, Graham must battle his demons. He killed a man who was trying to kill his daughter and it caused him to question everyone. The incident haunts Graham from the beginning to the end of the novel. The confliction of Graham makes him an intriguing character to follow and also a scary one. He has gone too far down the rabbit hole ever to consider himself normal. As I read, I kept wondering if he was going to snap and go down off the deep end.
I think what makes Graham such a likable character with all his faults is his ability to feel empathy for the victims. He gets to know them on such a personal level that he feels close to them. It’s almost the same way the killer connects with the families. If he can learn about them, then Graham can get inside the head of the psychopath and figure out his next move.
In stark contrast, we have Francis Dollarhyde. Harris sets him up as this evil man, and of course, we want Graham to find him and bring him to justice. But, halfway through the book, we get up close and personal with Dollarhyde. Harris goes into great detail to give us his backstory. Now, most of the time I cannot stand interrupting the story for a massive background dump, but Harris did it in such a way that the story would not work without it. For us to understand Dollarhyde, we had to get to know him. His mother abandoned him because of a cleft pallet. As a mom, I cringed at the thought of someone doing this to an innocent child. It made me wonder if she had accepted him would he have been different? Of course, without his haunted and tragic background, we would not have a story. But, it still makes me wonder.
At first, I cheered when the Grandmother came to “rescue” him from the orphanage. That is until we got a closer look at her. She was downright disconnected from even her own family. There was this holier-than-thou attitude she had, and it made me sick the way she treated him. In giving his backstory, Harris garnered sympathy from the reader. I think it was critical that the reader had some form of Sympathy for Dollarhyde. It’s not that I wanted him to get away. I wanted him punished for the crimes he committed, but I wanted to see him change and stop trying to kill people. He was a weird reversal of the Oedipus Rex complex. But instead of just killing the father to marry the mother. Dollarhyde killed everyone including the women he was trying to connect with.
I would be remised if I did not talk about Hannibal Lector for a few sentences. Even though he was not in the forefront of the story he played a crucial role. Lector’s character is one that leaves us with chills every time he speaks. He is so eloquent and refined until he decides he wants to eat you. He drove the story forward when needed. If it were not for him being consulted in the beginning, then Dollarhyde would not have reached out and set into motion events leading to his downfall.
Overall, this book will not be a bore to read. It is engaging, and I felt like I was walking with the characters trying to solve this puzzle. They thrilled me and sent chills all over my body as I got up close and personal with the killers.

The Sculptor by Gina Fava

The Sculptor by Gina Fava was a fast paced, action packed horror novel. I loved how the pacing never seemed to slow down. There was always something going on in this book to help push the story forward.

The story starts off with Mara Silvestri on a flight to Rome where she is attending business school and intends to spread her father’s ashes on the countryside of his childhood home. As I read the story, it was clear that she knew there was a murderer on the loose and murdering students from her new school. My first thought was why in the world would anyone want to go to a school where a murdered is picking off students one by one. But, if she had not gone, then we would have read a much different story.

There were a lot of characters that wove their way in and out of the story. I think that Fava did a pretty good job keeping the characters clear and giving each one a distinctive personality. She achieved this a couple of different ways. I noticed that each character had their own way of speaking or conveying information, some had specific mannerism, and others were called a unique nickname throughout the story. Take Mara’s best friend, Kristen. Kristen always had a pair of cuticle scissors with her, and she was constantly trimming the split ends from her hair. In contrast, Professor Jack Sugardale was always referred to as Signore Jack, and he called every woman he met, little lady.

I enjoyed all the twist and turns as Mara and Jesse tried to uncover who the Sculptor was. I was glad that the murders were known to us and that it was not someone we had not met yet (this is a spoiler if you haven’t read the story) but, there was the twist at the end that let us know that the real Sculptor was still out there. Fava even leaves more clues at the end of the story without telling us who the mastermind is.

Fava had plenty of light-hearted moments through the story that helped to balance all the gruesome murders, which I felt contributed to keeping the story interesting. I would have liked more tension between Mara and Jesse. I felt their relationship went way to fast. At the beginning of the book Mara is attracted to Jesse, then she can’t stand him, and a few pages later she’s kissing him, but I guess that can happen in real life just probably not centered around a murder or a group of murders. Some of the descriptions used to describe the characters were funny. My favorite line was, “She took hold of his arm, impressed by the sheer bulk of his python-like biceps,” (Fava 62). Yes, this is a cheesy line to me, but it was also funny. As we write we are always told to find new ways to describe something that has been described a million times over.

Overall, I enjoyed the story. I like how it was faced paced, and everything that happened pushed the story forward. The twist and turns were fun to navigate in-between all the grotesque murders.

The Church of Dead Girls by Stephen Doboyns

This week we read The Church of Dead Girls by Stephen Doboyns. It starts off with an in-depth description of what the three murdered girls looked like. It was such a horrific scene to start with, and I was immediately pulled into the story. I wanted to know more about the girls and what lead the murder to do what he did. I thought the story was going to follow the murderer, but it did not. After that chapter ends the story shifts and goes into great detail about the town and its people. I felt completely bored as I was reading through this section but I figured there was a reason for this.

If this weren’t for class, I probably would have put the book down before finishing part one. I was not interested at all in the townspeople and who dates who and slept with who. It became confusing who was who with all the people in the story. It made me wonder if this was done on purpose. I felt like I was in a Stephen King novel with all the setting and details about everyone. But, as the story progressed, I started to see the trail of breadcrumbs forming. Everyone was connected in some way with what they
did or said, and I liked that about the story.

What really interested me the most where Chinhani’s teachings. He was one very intriguing character. I liked how he rocked the boat and made the people think even though they didn’t want to. It was neat to see how uncomfortable he made everyone. He was very imposing in the way he made the younger students think.

Another aspect I thought was different about this story was the fact that everyone’s dirty laundry was aired. If a character had a skeleton in his/her closet, it was spread through the town like wildfire. This happens in any city large or small. Nothing was safe no matter what the character did to hide the truth from everyone. Sometimes its easier to hide what you are and what you did in a much larger place.

Something I felt the author did well was keeping everyone guessing till the very last moment who the murderer was. The narrator was so distant and removed from the story that for a moment I thought he could be the suspect, but I quickly dismissed him as a suspect once he and Sadie found the umbrella while he was walking her home. With that being said the narrator was something else. He was quiet and reserved and kept to himself. What makes me raise eyebrows at him is how he goes and cuts off the left
hand of Donald Malloy. I still don’t wholly trust the narrator. Something seems fishy about him after he decides to sneak into the mortuary to cut off the hand. He gives the impression that in a way he idolized Donald in some way. He goes so far as to say that it teaches him. What could the hand of a murderer teach him? That part gave me chills.

Overall the beginning of the story did not hold my attention. I felt lost and confused as to who was who. But, with that being said at the end of the story the characters became clearer, and there was more focus on the main characters and the rest fell into the shadows. Everyone has tendencies good and bad it’s just a matter if they act on them and this story showed us both sides of human nature.