Book Review: Red Dragon

Red Dragon cover

I hope that everyone had a good weekend, and are ready to get back to the daily grind, or at least finding ways to be productive during the long break.

Things are going pretty well, even though I had some annoyances, including possible interruptions in the schedule that would have ruined for plans next week, and I am at least happy to be able to do something that I can enjoy.

Earlier in the month, I had gotten a few books from Amazon that either piqued my interest or were continuations of series that I regularly follow, and I have finally been able to get around to them.

Today, I will be reviewing one of those titles, which is called Red Dragon by Thomas Harris.

Grisly murders have taken place in Eastern part of the United States and the FBI is having enough troubles that an agent goes to bring Will Graham, a retired profiler that gained fame for the capturing an infamous killer that who is a mystery to psychology experts and majors alike, to help them hunt down this new menace.

However, in order to get anywhere, Will has to get help from the Hannibal Lecter, the same man he captured before retiring, even though that same man could very well make things even harder for the person who captured him.

There are many famous fictional characters out there, from Sherlock and Dracula to Arsène Lupin, and many have read books featuring them, whether they were from the original creator or those that decided to created their own works using them, but there are some characters out there that are more well known because of the movies featuring them than the original work, such as Hannibal Lecter, and after reading about Hannibal Lecter in Detective Conan, and finding out there were books, I thought that I would check out one of the original works.

And after reading this, I must say that I was kind of impressed.

From the moment that I opened up this book and started reading it, I did not want to put it down for any reason, even though I have to satisfy the same needs as every other human.

While it was not exactly like a work from Agatha Christie, or some other well writer that I would consider great, as it did take a while for my interest to be garnered, it was still able to fulfill the bare minimum needed to make a work quite well.

The first step to getting a reader to enjoy a book s to pull them in quickly and that is dependent on a few factors, such as if the writer can write in an engaging way and other factors, which I cannot really pinpoint, since it depends greatly on the kind of story that is being presented, and Thomas was able to fulfill one part of this quite well.

If he had not been able to do this much, I would not see how each of the four books featuring the infamous serial killer we all know and fear today ended up becoming four different movies, five if you take into account that this book was adapted into a movie twice, that made Hannibal Lecter as well known as the likes of Dracula and Sherlock, even to the point where people are pitting him against Sherlock.

Fortunately, Thomas Harris did not fail quite as badly as I thought he would to the point where he ends up looking like a joke, since many of the books out there are not as good as what people have been led to believe, and it makes me want to check out the other books in the series, such as Silence of the Lambs, which was the book that Gosho Aoyama recommended in the mystery library segment of Detective Conan Volume 19.

I also liked how I got the very feelings that I expected from a thriller.

Even though most of my time is spent paying attention to detective, mystery, and crime fiction or manga, I am not totally inexperienced with works in the thriller genres, as the elements of a mystery do enhance the quality of a work of thriller and the elements of a thriller can make works in the detective, mystery, and crime fiction genres much more exciting, which might be a reason why some distributors will the four genres together, other than the fact that people often use mystery as a synonym for detective fiction.

In the case of this work, the thing that really propelled my interest and desire to finish the book was the very thing that Scott Rhine had done right in Quantum Zero Sentinel.

Now, Scott Rhine's book was not a complete and utter failure, like John Grisham's The Whistler, as I did end up liking it overall, but the thing that both this book and Scott Rhine's book did was keep me on the edge of my seat by delivering feelings of suspense, excitement, anticipation, and/or anxiety.

However, unlike most works of thriller, these feeling did not come completely because of the elements of a mystery. Back in my review of Quantum Zero Sentinel, I stated that a thriller can be done quite well, when perspectives change between protagonists and antagonists, and psychological works, regardless of whether they are psychological thrillers, like Death Note, or psychological horror, which this book is considered, really thrives with the back forth switching, because there needs to be some kind of cat and mouse game to keep the reader interested. Thomas Harris understood this quite well, at least back when he worked on this book back in 1981, and it makes me want to give him a nice round of applause.

If this aspect was not present, I would have considered not checking out any of the books even further, especially because of the content that is suggested to be present in the three remaining books in the tetralogy, one of which was supposedly written because Thomas did not want a prequel done by anyone else, though I cannot verify it, because this aspect of the book was what made it more interesting than Thomas's writing style.

Another thing that I liked was how Hannibal Lecter's presence in this book was relatively minimal.

While Hannibal Lecter is quite well known to be a cannibal, both by those that have seen the movies and/or read the books and the public at large, seeing that his name is as familiar as Sherlock Holmes, people do not know the other interesting aspects about him, as he is called “Holmes in Prison” over in Japan, according to mystery library segment of the aforementioned 19th volume of Detective Conan, and it made me quite interested in checking him out, and it really made me look forward to reading this all the more.

However, in this volume, Hannibal Lecter did not seem to do too much, and the fact that he was mostly off screen made me all the more interested in him as a person when he did show up, as Thomas showed that Hannibal could definitely hold his own in a battle of wits with Sherlock, even if he does not come out victorious.

If Hannibal had been much more active and present in the book, I do not see how he would even gain the notoriety that he has, and I would have agreed with Thomas that Hannibal would have been better to have in only one book, since Thomas said in the foreword that he did not think he would be writing any more books featuring Hannibal after this, but because he was offscreen much of the time, Hannibal ended up becoming just as interesting as he appeared to be in Gosho Aoyama's Mystery Library.

The thing that I liked the most though was how I could see practically everything going on.

Over the course of my life, I have read tons of different books, varying between prose, like this, and graphic novels, and one of the things that teachers try to drive home in writing a story is how important is for an audience to be able to draw the images of what is happening in a story, and both professional and amateur have a tough time realizing that the audience does not see what they see as they write the book, and a lack of details in prose fiction makes it hard for the audience to follow because they cannot really imagine what is going on.

However, in this work, I had no troubles being able to draw the images and could see quite well how everything progressed or even what the characters themselves were imagining.

For as difficult as that it might be to read this book, as Thomas Harris's style is not on the same level as Weston Kincade is in being able to deliver writing that can make a reader feel engaged, he certainly knows how to string words together to create images.

The best example of this was in the first chapter, where Jack Crawford originally came to Will Graham for help.

In this moment, it seemed like things were going in much the same direction as The Whistler, in which the audience was about to be introduced to the case at hand, and after a bit of conversation, Thomas took the time to give details of exactly what he was picturing, and it helped me escape into the world of the book.

Writers need to learn the difference between showing and telling in a story, as well as understand enough psychology to make the characters feel realistic and believable, and I do not think that I have been able to see anything better than this.

If Thomas Harris was not able to do this, I definitely would have been disappointed with him, because there would have been serious questions as to why his work was even considered to be adapted into various movies and television series.

Fortunately, Thomas did not mess things up as badly as John Grisham, and it helped to make this book a bit better.

Outside of those things, I cannot think of anything else that I particularly liked, at least that could stand out on its own.

Because my interest was captured and held from beginning to end, especially because it delivered the feelings fans of thriller expect and was able to help me draw images of what was happening, and it made me more interested in the infamous killer Hannibal, this was a fairly decent read.

Although I liked the book, there are some issues.

However, aside from things that are too minor to talk about, such as typos, and one thing that seemed to be necessary to understand the antagonist and his motivations, but I do not feel like talking about, only two things bothered me.

First, the book was not that easy to become engrossed in.

Even though I did say that Thomas was able to capture my attention relatively easily, it was not as quick as I would have liked it to be, especially because some people consider this a page-turner.

Thomas may have done quite right with this book, in making me interested in what was going on, but the way he wrote this book made it really hard for me to get to the point where I did not want to stop reading.

Words and thoughts are tools a writer uses on a regular basis to convey their ideas, and, just like any other tool, the way they are used in crafting a work can mean the difference between creating something decent and something that is just okay, and the work presented by Thomas Harris is more often than not on the line of okay.

I am not expecting to be enamored by a work from page one, but if I do not feel like I just need to read the work before chapter 10, I cannot see how this would even be considered a page-turner.

With the kind of display Thomas Harris presented here, I am not even too sure how his name became so well known, seeing as adaptations are an entirely new work, according to the foreword by Yoshihiro Togashi in Yu Yu Hakusho Volume 10.

Seriously, how could have this been the book that introduced so many to the killer we know and fear today, when Thomas could not even find his groove so quickly?

Then again, I guess this was not the book that made Hannibal famous, because I hardly hear people talking about it as much as Silence of the Lambs, so I guess I can let him off the hook a bit, especially because people are not claiming this particular book to be absolutely perfect to the extent that Attack on Titan is considered to be the greatest anime to be created.

The thing that bothered me was the use of profanity and other language.

Now, I am pretty much okay with seeing profanity in a work, as long as it does not come off as unnatural as it did in Aria the Scarlet Ammo Volume 1, because it can add some emotional weight, but this was a bit too much for my liking in both occurrence and how it was used.

Yes, the books and movies are not necessarily geared towards a young audience, and the movies are all in the R rating category, which will keep those that are members of the same church as me away from the movies, instead of what the leaders said should really be avoided, but that does not change the fact that it ended up feeling rather distasteful, in comparison to the profanity used in anime, light novels, and manga and/or how it is used in them today, at least when you stay away from the pornographic titles.

According to at least one person that read this book, and was willing to give this book a perfect rating, this is supposed to be a great book to study writing craftmanship, yet it resorts to use profanity and vulgarity to try and make things much more enticing to read to the casual reader in the demographic intended.

This must be why there is often a huge debate about whether such language is absolutely necessary in a work of fiction, because Thomas Harris has definitely taken things a bit too far.

If Thomas had worked at it a bit more, he could have delivered what he had intended to, without coming off as so unappealing and disgusting.

However, because he delivered the story in this manner, I am not too sure I even want to continue on with the Hannibal tetralogy anymore, as I can find much more high quality writing from something like Spice & Wolf, and I doubt that I would be alone in this.

Thankfully, nothing else bothered me too much to ruin this any further, and I can finally leave this thing behind.

While there were only two problems with this book, they were both bad enough to put a damper on my enjoyment of the book as a whole.

Despite the fact that there were a few problems, this was definitely worth reading, if only to see how certain language can ruin a reader's overall enjoyment.

I recommend this to fans of Hannibal Lecter, Thomas Harris, thriller, and psychological horror, as they will be able to enjoy this the most.

As for everyone else, this might be worth giving a try, but I would more likely recommend against it because the same things that turned me off would cause problems for other.

If you liked this review and would like to see more, please consider supporting me on Patreon or, if you really want to, buy the reviewed title from Amazon, so that I can continue finding more worthwhile reads for you guys, and do whatever you do when you find something that impresses you.

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Copyright © 2015 Bryce Campbell. All Rights Reserved.