Title: Red Dragon (Hannibal Lecter #1)
Author: Thomas Harris
My Rating: ★★★★
Goodreads Summary: “A second family has been massacred by the terrifying serial killer the press has christened ‘The Tooth Fairy.’ Special Agent Jack Crawford turns to the one man who can help restart a failed investigation: Will Graham. Graham is the greatest profiler the FBI ever had, but the physical and mental scars of capturing Hannibal Lecter have caused Graham to go into early retirement. Now, Graham must turn to Lecter for help.”
As is expected, Red Dragon is mostly about murder, but the novel also focuses on the mental strain put on FBI agents, which I found interesting. The novel starts with Crawford trying to convince Will to help with a case, but he’s hesitant, as is his wife Molly. Her husband got nearly disemboweled by a serial killing cannibal. I would be hesitant too. Will makes it clear that it is bad for him mentally and Molly says he only recently stopped having nightmares due to his surgically precise stabbing incident. Throughout the novel it is clear the mental toll on Will effects all aspects of his life, making it nearly impossible for him to work with the FBI while having a life outside of work.
You have to shake it off and keep on thinking. I don’t believe I could do it now. I could make myself look, but I’d shut down on the thinking.
Harris switches between focusing on the investigations, Will’s personal life, and the murderer, which I loved. I liked seeing all sides of the story and it kept me intrigued and on edge. Often one chapter would end on a cliffhanger and switch to another part of the story, leaving me desperate to find out what would happen next. Following the murderer around was especially nerve-wracking and intense. (As would be expected).
Harris created an interesting story by including a lot of minuscule details. Will discovered and the Tooth Fairy showed so many small clues that were intriguing and slowly built up tension in the novel. At times I definitely forgot some, but that’s on me, not Harris. (And college, for not giving me enough time to read).
However, I wish the characters had been more prominent. Red Dragon is more plot-based than character-based and I tend to prefer the latter. If a book has a great plot, but the characters are boring, I find myself losing interest. Harris does a great job with both, but I would have liked more focus on characters thoughts and feelings.
That being said, I love the characters Harris created. I love watching Will’s mind work, his sarcastic attitude and his awkward but caring demeanor. The ending of the novel made me sad though, because it kept me wondering about Will, and I know from watching Silence of the Lambs, he isn’t in it. At least I still have a few episodes of Hannibal left!
One character that is written perfectly is Hannibal Lecter. Despite being in the book less than I thought he would be, every scene with him is amazing. He is awful (obviously), but undeniably hilarious. He is both a monster and so human. For example, among the few books in his prison cell, Hannibal has a copy of The Joy of Cooking. (You can’t tell me that isn’t the funniest, most fucked up thing in the world). And he writes letters like (as one Tumblr user, @ailichi pointed out), “a nineteenth century schoolgirl.”
We live in a primitive time — don’t we, Will? — neither savage nor wise. Half measures are the curse of it. Any rational society would either kill me or give me my books.
I also adored Molly, Will’s wife. She is so protective of Will and her son, telling Crawford off when he tries to recruit Will to go back to the FBI. She takes shit from no one, not even Will and I love her for it. She has an especially cool scene at the end of the book that I am obsessed with. She is truly a badass. (Me? Simping for a strong female character?! Pfffft never. *”Woman” by Harry Styles blares in the background*)
One thing that did bother me somewhat (not in a serious way) was the names. There’s Will and his stepson Willy. There’s Frederick Chilton and Freddy (Frederick) Lounds. Harris…buddy…come on. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, I mean this is the guy that named his villain Hannibal the Cannibal. Either way, it makes me feel a lot better about my own lack of character-naming skills.
I was also excited to see that Harris wrote the gay subtext in the original novel. (I mean who doesn’t want some homoeroticism with their cannibalism?!) I wasn’t sure how much was in the original, because there is so much in Hannibal that it is hardly subtext and I didn’t notice it much in the book at first. I was focused on other aspects of the book, ya know, like murder. But from Hannibal smelling Will’s aftershave and recognizing it, to him sending Will letters, it is 100% there. Additionally, Will fears he can understand murderers so well because he is also insane (rather than deeply empathetic like he believes). The connection and similarity to Hannibal also speaks to a deeper connection between the two.
One thing that made reading Red Dragon extra great was watching Hannibal at the same time. I liked comparing characters and finding lines taken directly from the book. Hannibal is very different, but it’s cool to see how inspired the TV show was from the original content. I also watched the movie Red Dragon, and it was good. The acting for some characters was sort of boring (especially Will), but it stuck to the plot closely, which I really appreciate. Overall, I really loved reading Red Dragon!
Thank you so much for reading! To celebrate spooky season, here is Hugh Dancy (who did an amazing job bringing Will Graham to life on screen in Hannibal) carrying some pumpkins 🎃✨