Red Dragon by Thomas Harris

Red Dragon is probably another book I’m late to the party on. After all, Hannibal Lecter was all the rage in 90’s, not the 2010’s. There are still quite a number of devotees, but this isn’t as fresh as it once was. Mind you, this was one party I never really wanted to get into. The one movie (Silence of the Lambs) was enough for me.

(Note, for those following along in The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books, this one was 3rd for David Foster Wallace (DAVID FOSTER WALLACE!).)

Still, I try to read outside my normal area once in a while. I know we all paint ourselves into corners far too much reading-wise, and I’m just as bad as anyone. Still, I’m not much for crime thrillers, even if they are highly recommended by David Foster Wallace. Did I mention DFW had this one on his top ten yet? I’m pretty sure I did. If you missed it above, DFW put this one as his third all time favorite book. Though not being a big crime thriller devotee, I had to check it out.

Really, I don’t see why DFW was so big on this. It’s a good book, but I don’t see what the big deal is. Maybe DFW liked to read a totally different kind of book than he wrote, but there isn’t much to interest me here.

Mind you, this is still a good, suspenseful book. We have Will Graham, the agent who tracked down and captured Hannibal Lecter. He is in somewhat of a retirement, nursing both his physical and mental scars from the Lecter incident. Of course, he doesn’t get to stay in quiet retirement. A new killer, the Red Dragon, is on the loose. In order to stop his killing spree, Graham must come out of retirement:

            “All dead,” he said.

            Graham stared at him a moment before picking up the pictures.

            They were only snapshots: A woman, followed by three children and a duck, carried picnic items up the bank of a pond. A family stood behind a cake.

            After half a minute he put the photographs down again. He pushed them into a stack with his fingers and looked far down the beach where the boy hunkered, examining something in the sand. The woman stood watching, hand on her hip, spent waves creaming around her ankles. She leaned inland to swing her wet hair off her shoulders.

*****

            “Will, this freak seems to be in phase with the moon. He killed the Jacobis in Birmingham on Saturday night, June 28, full moon. He killed the Leeds family in Atlanta night before last, July 26. That’s one day short of a lunar month. So if we’re lucky we may have a little over three weeks before he does it again.”

*****

            “I think we have a better chance to get him fast if you help. Hell, Will, saddle up and help us. Go to Atlanta and Birmingham and look, then come on to Washington. Just TDY.”

Of course, in order to track the Red Dragon, Will must visit Hannibal Lecter:

            There was something else he could do, and he had known it for days. He could wait until he was driven to it by desperation in the last days before the full moon. Or he could do it now, while it might be of some use.

            There was an opinion he wanted. A very strange view he needed to share; a mindset he had to recover after his warm round years in the Keys.

            The reasons clacked like roller-coaster cogs pulling up to the first long plunge, and at the top, unaware that he clutched his belly, Graham said it aloud.

            “I have to see Lecter.”

Though, I have to admit, I’m not really sure why he has to visit Lecter. The visit doesn’t seem to produce much of value in the search. The clues they need are found elsewhere and though a lot of plot action comes from interacting with Lecter, I think Will would have been better off leaving Lecter alone. This kind of seems to just be in here to make the book more interesting, almost like mere ornamentation.

All in all, the book is suspenseful…but it isn’t the most suspenseful book I’ve ever read. There is a lot of imagination, developed characters (though many, including Will, sometimes seem a bit generic), and a good story. It is a good book…but just not a book I would ever include in the top books of all time.

Am I really doing it? Am I really going to disagree with DFW?

Well, yes and no. Reading tastes are always personal. The fact that I think so much of DFW still doesn’t mean that I like to read the same books he did. I liked this book, but I just don’t see what DFW saw in it. If there is more than just a GOOD book here, I’m not seeing it.

Then again, I’m sure it wouldn’t be the first time that DFW could see something that I couldn’t. For the moment, though, I’m going to have to consider Red Dragon to be a GOOD book and not much more.

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