Red Dragon by Thomas Harris

I am so happy to report that I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Were there things I wanted to tweak? Sure. Did I hit some dull spots? A few–and I’ll get to those. But because Red Dragon was a book I can confidently say was well-written and a good read, I have to start with the positives.

This was the first book I’ve read–in a long time–where I totally bought the “almost” ending. I didn’t have a shred of doubt that Dolarhyde had shot himself and then burned in the fire. I mean, Reba touched his bloody, mangled, raw hamburger-like face. Boom. Done–dead as a doornail.

But wait! Everyone’s home and safe, the family is fishing, and then Dolarhyde jumps out of the sand dunes to try to murder Graham! I thought Graham was having some sort of flashback or panic attack, or at least was in the midst of a nightmare. But then he never woke up. It just kept going. Willy and Molly were running to the house and then it’s Molly, of all people, who takes Dolarhyde out–what an ending! With Graham, once again, convalescing in the ICU. Crazy. I ate it up. Almost everything connected: Molly’s rife lessons, the creepy guy at the gas station, the fact that the creepy guy at the gas station had false teeth… Just so many little things came back to us at the end (Bible quote, anyone?) and I loved it.

Plus, Harris didn’t even have to go overboard on the gore like a lot of our books have done this semester. Yes, I’m talking about American Psycho. That’s when you know you have not only a good writer, but a writer who is confident in his talent. Harris didn’t need to tell us the gruesome details of Molly shooting Dolarhyde 5+ times. All we got was she had flecks of blood and bone on her skin so she took a shower. It was all we needed. No shock value or hyperbolic gross-out factor because Harris trusted his readers would be smart enough to fill in the blanks themselves.

Now, onto the shaky bits–which, in my opinion, were rectified with that ending–but they still left me raising my eyebrows in incredulity nonetheless.

First of all, I am not a fan of multiple points-of-view. Nearly every book we’ve read so far this semester has had multiple POVs, with the exception of American Psycho, yet it’s still not growing on me. Now, I can deal with two alternating POVs, maybe even three if I’m feeling adventurous–but Red Dragon had a million. Okay, maybe more like seven, but it was overload for me. Reason being, I hate repeats. I hate it when the cops have to play catch-up when the killer already revealed him/herself and confirmed our suspicions. Then there’s no chase, no winning or competing. It’s the silver-platter syndrome. Though Red Dragon merely showed symptoms, not the full-on disease like other books we know. (The Sculptor, cough-cough.)

Second, I didn’t quite understand the jump from Dolarhyde’s tragic childhood to this dragon persona. Now, if the whole story never involved the red dragon, I’d totally get him. I mean, his family was horrible to him and obviously had issues of their own. I could see how that alone would drive him to murder. I’m obviously not saying it’s justified or warranted, I’m just saying it makes sense with the story. After we got his back story it’s like there was this drop off into nothing. There was no transition from boy Dolarhyde to Dragon Dolarhyde, just then and now. Maybe this was to showcase how Dolarhyde had blocked some memories off so much that Harris felt like he couldn’t even give the reader an explanation. Personally I had trouble connecting that transition and it fell kind of flat for me.

Those two points were basically my main issues with Red Dragon, but by the end, I really had to go back and think of my previous misgivings I was so impressed. I’m usually always skeptical when I read. I always think, “the lover’s really the killer,” or “the mother who’s been dead since page one is really alive”. Red Dragon caught me at a lazy moment. I had let my guard down. Harris wrote such a believable “almost” ending that it didn’t even matter that Reba was a blind woman confirming Dolarhyde’s suicide. I believed her because, she “put her hand in it”. Brilliant.





4 Comments Add yours

  1. Kristin says:

    It’s always a great feeling when we like the books we have to read. I like more books this term than in my previous two, The Sculptor not included.
    I didn’t take any issue with Dolarhyde’s transformation into the Dragon. When Dolarhyde first saw The Red Dragon painting it spoke to him, it triggered his psychosis in some way and set him off on the path that ended his life. I actually liked that it wasn’t as clean an explanation as we often get in serial killer stories. Human motives, especially those of someone who has clearly had a break with reality, are never that tidy. I appreciated the messiness and the ambiguity of how the Dragon Became.


  2. You’re right, Harris is a writer completely confident in his talent as a writer and in his readers. I was always a tad confused about the Dragon persona and like you, I thought it might not have veen necessary, especially as we only find the dragon connection towards the end. But after reading Kristin’s comment, it does make sense in a way.
    The connections were fantastic, and that’s why I don’t mind the POV shifts so much, but I understand where you’re coming from with the “silver platter” problem. Sometimes the reader wants to be able to put two and two together for themselves. If this was your first time reading it, glad you enjoyed. That ending gets me everytime. It’s such a simple, but clever move on Harris’ part to completely misdirect the reader.


  3. Chad pritt says:

    To me, this book was everything the Sculptor wasn’t. Harris did a great job of presenting us a character, but never left us comfortable in our hatred of him. There was some part of me, especially after the flashback chapters, that wanted to feel sorry for Dolarhyde. His frantic attempts at the end to try to fix everything made it even more brilliant to read.

    I’ll have to disagree with you on the POV part, though. This is just my opinion, but when I read these procedurals I like to know my killer and then go back and watch the police put it together themselves. WE know who the killer is, but will THEY figure it out? I think this works better in this setting than it does in a full on horror story.


  4. kloft1993 says:

    Isn’t it awesome when a book doesn’t rely on gore to scare you? I never actually end up scared, just disgusted and nauseated. This is why psychological thrillers/horror novels are far more appealing to me. I’ve said it many times, but characters are my favorite aspect to any story, and when they are the ones causing the fear, or inspiring the romance, or whatever it may be in your genre, that’s what’s going to impress and stick with me.

    Your point on multiple POVs is excellent. I generally don’t have a preference for POV, but redundancy is exasperating. I’ve noticed this in plenty of crime novels, fluctuating between the killer and crime solver. Perhaps some readers like being in the know when the protagonist does not, but I personally prefer when they catch me off guard. It makes to reading experience more immersive. And Harris did a great job of that with his ending.


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