Harris first rocketed up the bestseller lists with his excellent terrorism thriller Black Sunday. His antihero Hannibal the Cannibal exploded into the public consciousness after Jonathan Demme's excellent movie version of Silence of the Lambs (1991) came out, with Anthony Hopkins brilliant creepy performance as Lecter. And, of course, fans and Hollywood have had an anxious 11 year wait for Harris to finally publish a sequel. But many people may not realize that Hannibal Lecter first appeared, albeit in a cameo role, in the novel Red Dragon and in Michael Mann's capable movie version, Manhunter (1986). If you've missed this book, I urge you to try it; in many ways it is Harris's best work.
FBI Special Will Graham has retired to Sugar Loaf Key, FL with his new wife Molly and her son Willie. Retired because of his nearly fatal encounter with a linoleum knife wielding Hannibal Lecter, whose capture he was responsible for, and because of the emotional troubles that have accompanied his ability to develop an almost extrasensory empathy for such killers, such that he has trouble purging their feelings from his own psyche. His peaceful idyll is disrupted when his old boss, Jack Crawford, shows up and asks for his help in catching The Tooth Fairy, a serial killer who is notorious for the tooth marks he leaves and for dicing his victims with shards of broken mirrors. Reluctantly agreeing to join the chase, Graham decides, in order to recapture the mindset that has made him so eerily effective in prior cases, to visit Hannibal Lecter in the Chesapeake State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. There the administrator, Dr. Frederick Chilton, shares an anecdote about Hannibal that demonstrates just how horrible he is:
"On the afternoon of July 8, 1976, Dr. Lecter complained of chest pain. His restraints were removed in the examining room to make it easier to give him an electrocardiogram. One of his attendants left the room to smoke, and the other turned away for a second. The nurse was very quick and strong. She managed to save one of her eyes."
"You may find this curious." He took a strip of EKG tape from a drawer and unrolled it on his desk. He traced the spiky line with his forefinger. "Here, he's resting on the examining table. Pulse seventy-two. Here, he grabs the nurse's head and pulls her down to him. Here, he is subdued by the attendant. He didn't resist, by the way, though the attendant dislocated his shoulder. Do you notice the strange thing? His pulse never got over eighty-five. Even when he tore out her tongue.
I don't think we're any closer to understanding him than the day he came in.''
After tabloid reporter Freddie Lowndes splashes this visit all over the pages of The Tattler, the killer too contacts Lecter who urges him to attack Graham. Thus begins a suspenseful, violent minuet as Graham develops increasing insight into the killer's methodology and psychoses, the killer plans his next kill (he's on a Lunar schedule) and Hannibal pulls strings from the dark background. Harris provides fascinating detail on police procedure, he writes savvily about how the FBI uses the media and the inventiveness of the crimes he dreams up is genuinely disturbing. But the most interesting part of the story is the delicate mental balance that Graham has to maintain in order to think like the killers but still remain sane. And as Graham penetrates further into the killer's mind, Harris reveals more and more background about the Tooth Fairy, Francis Dolarhyde, who it turns out was a horribly misshapen baby, abandoned by his mother and raised by a demented grandmother, early on manifesting the now classic signs of the serial murder--torturing animals and the like. This background and Will Graham's troubles dealing with the thought patterns he shares with Dolarhyde raise questions about what separates us from such men and whether there's a formula for creating such evil beings. Is it really simply a matter of psychosexual abuse of young boys and, presto chango, you've created a serial killer?
In addition to this kind of portrayal of the psychotic as victim, our effort to deal with these creatures has resulted in a sizable batch of thrillers where the serial killer is portrayed as a nearly superhuman genius. This flows from the same impulse that makes folks so willing to believe that assassinations are conspiracies. It is extremely hard, as a society, to face the fact that nondescript shlubs like David Berkowitz and Lee Harvey Oswald and Richard Speck and James Earl Ray are really capable of causing so much social disruption. Their crimes are so monumental that we want the killers to be equal in stature to the crimes. The sad truth of the matter is that these monsters are, in fact, generally hapless losers. They are not Lecterlike geniuses.
That said, Hannibal is still one of the great fictional creations of recent times, our age's version of Dracula or Frankenstein, and Harris's imaginative story makes for a great, albeit unsettling, read with more food for thought than most novels of the type.
on May 7, 2000
I doubt that anyone would argue the fact that this is the best of Harris's books, though RED DRAGON and BLACK SUNDAY are excellent, too. Any would-be author should read any of these as textbook examples displaying how "brevity of description" --as opposed to long drawn-out descriptions of a person or place in a scene--can be so powerful. For instance, Clarice Starling is simply described in her own thougths as someone who "knew she could look allright without primping" and that left you with the image of a great-looking female protagonist. Harris, and lesser known but equally as talented fellow Mississippi author Charles Wilson are two of the best I've ever read at being able to pull this "brevity" off. In fact, the above mentioned books of Harris, along with Wilson's GAME PLAN, DONOR, and NIGHTWATCHER, are among the most visual books I've ever read, without boring you with "too-much" description to get that effect. By the way, for those who loved SILENCE in particular, and haven't read Wilson, they should try NIGHTWATCHER for a read very similar to SILENCE in its story line and fear factor, with possibly better laid-out character development in NIGHTWATCHER--but hey, all of them top notch reads.
on March 4, 2004
Having seen the movie adaptation of "The Silence of the Lambs" several times, it seemed at times that I could see the action on the pages of the book rather than just reading them. I cannot help but see Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling and it is the voice of Anthony Hopkins I hear when Hannibal Lecter speaks. While this may limit how I view the characters, this does not detract at all from the book and I feel that in many ways, the novel is superior and is still gripping despite my familiarity with the story.
Clarice Starling is in training at the FBI Academy. She is a star student in the Behavioral Sciences Division when the Department Chief, Jack Crawford, calls her into his office and gives her a job. She is to interview one Dr Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter in order to help get into the mind of a serial killer. There is an open case with a serial killer who has been nicknamed "Buffalo Bill", and Dr. Lecter may be the only chance to solve the case without there being many more murders. Starling is only a trainee, and this may be why Lecter is actually willing to speak to Starling about Buffalo Bill, though he is always holding something back.
Lecter is a villain of extreme intellect and this comes through in his dialogue. Like "Red Dragon", Dr. Lecter is not the central villain and the story does not revolve specifically around him (though he has a larger role this time around). Lecter does play a pivotal role because without him, the story cannot move forward. We never truly get into the psyche of Jame Gumb (not as much as we did with Frances Dolorhyde in "Red Dragon"), and it seems as if most of his actions happen off camera.
While Lecter is a very interesting character, it is Clarice Starling that we get to see grow as a character and become more confident and insistent in her work with Lecter and to catch "Buffalo Bill" even though she is only a trainee. She was put on this case and she intends to see it through.
As creepy as the movie could be, I loved this book. It had a very fast pace and stayed interesting throughout the story and it didn't matter that I had seen the movie multiple times. I was interested in the story Thomas Harris was telling. While Harris goes into detail about crimes, it doesn't feel very gory or unnecessary. It seems that this novel was a best seller in the late 80's and it is easy to see why. "The Silence of the Lambs" is a well told thriller and any fans of James Patterson and that genre should definitely give this one a look.
on June 14, 2000
I read Hannibal first. That was probably a mistake, but if you did the same thing, make sure you pick up a copy of Red Dragon. This novel by Thomas Harris is the best, in my opinion, of the three "Hannibal Lecter" books. Will Graham is a profiler that is brought on the case of the Tooth Fairy, a serial murderer killing entire families. This is what makes the book so good. Even though the murders in Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal are gruesome, it isn't as though most of us really worry about a death like that. But the fear of someone breaking into your home, which is supposed to be a haven, and murdering not only you but also the people you love the most--that is a real fear that many share.
One of the great things in this book, as opposed to SotL, is how we get in the head of the killer. We learn about his childhood not in a dossier or a debriefing but from his own memories. In the end, the killer is conflicted, torn between fulfilling what he believes is his destiny and doing what he knows is right, and I was actually able to empathize with him because of the suberb characterization.
I am a stickler for research. This book is well researched. Nothing sticks out as wrong, everything advances the plot, and the subplots, like the relationship between Will and his wife Molly, only enhance the read. I guarantee you will not be able to put this book down, this is not a leisurely read. I thought the movies of Red Dragon (called Manhunter) and Silence of the Lambs were excellent, and I'm looking forward to Hannibal, but the books can't be beat.
on July 31, 2001
I have seen both Silence and Hannibal, but I have read neither. I believe in reading series boks in order, so I picked up Red Dragon two days ago. Wow!
If you only liked Silence because you loved Dr. Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter, you may be a little dissapointed. He is not really a main character, even though he is now being played up to be because of his notoriety after its predecessors.
This book is about a serial murderer who the police have jokingly dubbed "Tooth Fairy" because of the bite marks he leaves on housewives after killing their whole family. The killer knows himself as the "Red Dragon" because he feels he has the Dragon from William Blake's painting "The Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in The Sun" inside of him, helping him "Become".
Will Graham, a retired cop who captured Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter and was almost slain by him, is called upon by the FBI to help capture this mass murderer before he strikes again at the next full moon. Graham has a great memory and imagination but a bad case of recurring fear. he must overcome this fear and talk to Dr. Lecter, who may know something about The Dragon.
Lecter manages to manipulate the killer and Graham from his cell, through a tabloid called "The National Tattler". He communicates with the Dragon through codes in the personals section and manages to get the FBI into a frenzy over the ads, getting a sleezy reporter named Freddy Lounds involved in the picture.
The killer is also tormented by his past. He has a cleft palate and sound funny when speaking, causing him to slash his victims with broken mirrors from the house. He also hears the voice of his dead nasty grandmother, who had total control of the killer as a youth.
This book is not the conventional horror story. It is more a psychological thriller than a blood and gore fest. If you are looking for a good way to have nightmares for months, this book is highly recommended. Enjoy!
on December 15, 1999
The Red Dragon by Thomas Harris is probably one of the scariest, graphic books ever written. It's a thriller through all 454 pages of it. The setting is modern day in Virginia. The Red Dragon is the prequal to The Silence of the Lambs and the detec tive, Will Graham, is asked to come back to the F.B.I for this special case. This book is about a retired F.B.I investigator, Graham, who is asked to come back to the F.B.I for this case. In this case, the killer, who works in a film developing lab, stalks out his victims after he watches their home videos. His name is Francis Dolarhyde and he feels that he has a Red Dragon inside of him that makes him do the horrible things he does. He is influenced by a famous painting called "The Great Red Dragon". Once you see the cover, which has a picture of a red dragon, you will realize how scary this book actually is. I had to rate this book 5 stars, and I would definately recommend it to someone. So, if you want to read, in my opinion, the scariest book ever written, The Red Dragon is the book for you.
on May 26, 2000
Through other reviews the plot of Red Dragon is pretty well spelled out. So I'll skip a synopsis. Red Dragon is one of the finest thrillers I've read in many years. The book is very well plotted, the characters are fleshed out, the pace is brisk, and the tension is kept up through most of the book and of course, as mentioned numerous times, this book marks Hannibal Lecter's first (albeit small) appearance.
A surprise to the book is the way so much time and back story is given to the antagonist/killer. We spend a great deal of time with Francis Dolarhyde, experiencing the childhood and early adult life that led to his present condition. This brought back very pleasant memories of some of author Robert Bloch's earliest novels, in which most, if not all the story was told from the antagonist/killer's point-of-view. Francis is not your typical serial killer of many of today's novels, where the killer basically is unsympathetic and whose motives are of your typical, done-too-many-times revenge variety. Francis, although a vicious killer, is also quite sympathetic in his way. Three quibbles. First, although a pleasant surprise on one hand, I feel that a little TOO much time was spent on Dolarhyde's background. We get the idea very early on, and the rest feels like excessive overkill. Second, the ending (don't worry, I'm not going to give it away), can easily be seen coming and is not a surprise.
Lastly, (and this is not a fault of the book itself) I'd seen the movie that this book was based on, MANHUNTER, before I read this book. Because the movie follows the book very closely, much of the additional delicious suspense that would have been there for me was missed. I knew what was coming. But not to discourage people in the same shoes as I, be heartened by the fact that the ending of the movie does NOT follow the book!
Despite this pre-knowledge of events, I must say Red Dragon kept me turning the pages. I didn't stay up all night and read this book, but I DID look forward to getting to it each day that I was reading it. It's that good.
on January 26, 2006
I saw this movie well over a decade ago, and remebered the gist, but had forgotten much of the story. I recommend to anyone that saw the movie a while ago (and don't mind some graphic descriptions)to read this book. It is enthralling. When a serial killer known as Buffalo Bill begins to kidnap, kill, and skin young women, FBI trainee, Clarice Starling, begins to interview the criminal mind of Hanibal Lecter, a deranged psychiatrist. Lecter offers clues to Starling about the Buffalo Bill case, and Starling becomes heavily involved despite being just a trainee. However, Lecter doesn't share clues for free and she must reveal her past to Lecter in exchange for the information. The investigation becomes a race against time when another young woman is kidnapped. Will Lecter reveal enough clues for Starling to nab Buffalo Bill? You need to read this eerie, sometimes disturbing, and suspensful novel to find out.
Thomas Harris's THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, a famously bone-chilling thriller, was an immediate hit upon its 1988 publication. Now, twenty-five plus years later, most of us inevitably approach, or re-approach, it knowing something about it; with the world-famous movie based on it firmly in mind. Yet, I, at least, had to fight off the temptation to stay up all night to finish it, although I surely knew where it was going.
Harris, to be sure, writes a great, tense story of suspense. He'd already published BLACK SUNDAY and THE RED DRAGON where we were first introduced to Dr. Hannibal Lector. "Lamb's" plot concerns the efforts of the Federal Bureau of Investigations to catch a serial killer nicknamed Buffalo Bill. The agency sends trainee Clarice Starling to interview Dr. Hannibal Lector, former psychiatrist, imprisoned in a Baltimore insane asylum, after having been found guilty of nine sadistic, cannibalistic murders. Lector has unusual tastes, and intense curiosity about the darker side of the mind. The formerly eminent medical man's understanding of himself, Starling, and the killer forms the core of the book.
"Lambs" benefits from a complex, multi-layered plot. As it proceeds, we realize that Lector knew all along where it had to lead. The author's timing is impeccable: he hits his high notes, then gives us a moment to unwind. We hardly dare breathe during the Lector/Starling Tennessee scenes -- we're waiting with dread for what we know will come; when it does, it's overwhelming. The plot's also titillating, let's be honest about it, sex change operations and all. Furthermore, serial killers were new to us then; the genre is still remarkably popular, judging by the countless rip-offs of it since. Finally, a lot of the story deals with gruesome material, but the forensics are still fresh, and it's always leavened by the author's black humor.
Harris created two of the most memorable characters in modern fiction in Lector and Starling. The author has an acute ear for dialogue: who doesn't believe the Lector/Starling duets? At another point, Harris has Barney, sole knowledgeable orderly in the mental hospital where Lector has been held, say to Starling," Listen, when you get Buffalo Bill -- don't bring him to me just because I got a vacancy, all right?"
The writer's eye and ear serve him well. He describes a character's car as "a black Buick with a De Paul University sticker on the back window. His weight gave the Buick a slight list to the left." He describes Clarice's thoughts: "Sometimes Crawford's (her boss's) tone reminded Starling of the know-it-all caterpillar in Lewis Carroll." Early in the book, he has Starling driving back to FBI headquarters at Quantico, "back to Behavioral Sciences, with its homey brown-checked curtains and its gray files full of hell. She sat there into the evening, after the last secretary had left, cranking through the Lector microfilm. The contrary old viewer glowed like a jack-o'-lantern in the darkened room...." Sorry, but ya just gotta read the book to get this stuff.
on January 11, 2001
With some authors it can take a few chapters to feel comfortable with, not so with Thomas Harris and Red Dragon. Almost immediately the reader will feel as though he or she has been reading Harris' books for years, and in a way they probably have. There is a little bit of Red Dragon in all the popular thrillers of today. John Sanford, James Patterson, David Wiltse and other excellent authors like them write about recurring characters that bear resemblance to Thomas Harris' FBI agent Will Graham. Red Dragon's story structure will seem familiar because of its smoothly-woven sentences that must come naturally to its creator. Harris only writes a new book about every eight or so years and it shows in his craftmanship and storytelling. A book must be good if one of today's most celebrated villians (Hannibal Lecter) plays only a supporting role and isn't missed at all. Serial killer Francis Dolarhyde is the chief antagonist here and he is fleshed out to perfection with gradual revelations of his tortuous childhood that ultimately lead him to his current homicidal state. Agent Will Graham, uncanny detective skills and all, is hard pressed to track down this imaginative villian especially with the added distraction of conferences with Dr. Lecter; who Graham had originally brought to justice. With a great ending to top it all off, one MUST read this book.