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.

4 thoughts on “Red Dragon by Thomas Harris

  1. Where Harris placed Dollarhyde’s backstory worked perfectly in the novel. I agree that usually, an info-dump kills the pace, but we received this information at a perfect time in the story. Rather than just hoping Graham killed Dollarhyde, I almost hoped that Dollarhyde would change, even though I knew he was incapable of doing it, which added another level of dread to the story. Harris writes characters really well.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m not sure I would have believed Harris if he’d tried to convince me as a reader that Dolarhyde was capable of change. I think that’s a pretty solid part of the psychopathy… that they’re not going to change, don’t see an impetus to change, and have no reason to wake up in the morning any more motivated to be in therapy than they are now. I would have felt better as a human being, but my reader self would have been leaning back and shaking her head saying, “No, I don’t think so.”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree that Dolarhyde’s past was greatly needed and that Harris did it in a way that I almost didn’t realize it was an info dump. I felt so bad for him while I learned about his childhood that I wasn’t surprised that he became a psychopathic serial killer.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s