The first book involving Hannibal Lecter, ‘Red Dragon’ by Robert Harris follows Will Graham as he attempts to solve a series of vicious murders and in the process seeks help from the infamous psychopath. This is the first time I have read (or seen) anything about ‘Hannibal the Cannibal’ although I knew full-well who he was before starting and have long been fascinated by serial killers. There will be spoilers.
From a psychology student stand-point, I found it really interesting to read the parts involving the murder, his past and how that led to his violent behaviour later in life. It was particularly enjoyable having psychologists as principle characters, especially with the main character, Graham, being able to enter into the serial killer’s point of view.
From a reader’s point of view, it was thrilling. The pacing was well thought out, with occasional breaks from the main story line to look back at the killer’s past and give a bit of insight into the other characters. I liked the fact that the killer was revealed to the audience fairly early on as that allowed for an element of suspense. The reader could see where the police were in the investigation as well as what the criminal was doing. Harris even managed to allow for some compassion to be felt for the killer, which was, in my opinion, quite an achievement.
‘Red Dragon’ was not without its faults, however. One of its key plot points revolved around Lecter, who is incarcerated in a top security hospital, receiving a letter from the killer and it only being discovered later on. This grated with me somewhat as it seemed inconceivable that somewhere as high security would let their most notorious prisoner receive mail without it being read through first, and that kind of removed me from the story for a while. The ending was also a little confusing, with the final showdown seeming tacked on with little explanation. While I understand this only added to the shock value and was explained in a chunk of exposition later on, I did stop reading to go back and see if I had missed anything. The last few paragraphs were also odd, and had very little, if any, relation to the rest of the book (unless I did actually miss something).
Despite that, I really enjoyed reading ‘Red Dragon’ and found its use of character history, psychology and suspense to be particularly effective. Not to mention, the art lover in me really appreciated the use of art in helping to define the killer.