Off the Shelf

“Red Dragon”

By Marcus Pan

Red DragonAnthony Hopkins’ brilliant performance as Hannibal Lecter in Thomas Harris’ Silence of the Lambs captivated audiences with his coldness, brutality and remorseless. Red Dragon, as if you didn’t know, is the prequel to Silence and concerns the movements of serial killer Francis Dolarhyde, a harelipped madman with a split personality and a cold calculating touch. Hannibal’s appearance here is barely a cameo – though it’s an important part of the storyline and sets the Red Dragon killer on his old nemesis, special agent Will Graham.

When two families end up murdered with similar results, one in Birmingham and the other in Atlanta, special agent Crawford seeks help from Graham, now retired following his brutal ordeal and near-fatality with Hannibal the Cannibal; the infamous Hannibal Lecter, his previous collar. Will has a knack for understanding people – his mind is too closely matched to people like Lecter’s and so he can elucidate things that others will miss during investigation. He can think like them, plan like them and observe like them. That makes him invaluable in the chase to catch the Red Dragon in his romp before the next full moon occurs – a seeming commonplace timeframe for his usual work.

Dolarhyde is a child compared to Lecter. He is a sad, pathetic little wimp of a man with no ego and no social life and not a bit of social grace. As is expected, his personality shatters into distinct portions – one the Red Dragon who is capable, powerful and uncaring, creating and helping people to feel his power and learn the truth of God as he arranges them in his macabre killer’s game. The other is the sniveling Francis Dolarhyde who, as always, is bullied by the new figure within himself.

The Red Dragon is merciless. He chooses his victims seemingly at random, though he will look at various components of their family lives to better them in their growth of Becoming. Dolarhyde’s job as a film processor for a company that is shipped thousands of family movie film reels from local convenience stores gives the Red Dragon access to victims nationwide, which he can peruse at his leisure observing key points of their household and life. The sliding glass doors, the lock on the basement, the pet and the family are picked up in reviews of duplicated film at his home.

Brutal scenes are here. The finishing off of Tattler journalist Freddy Lounds was twisted with only the scene of Hannibal Lecter’s wakened lobotomy and cooking of grey matter from Hannibal beating it out. The closing ending was brilliant in its cold perfection and macabre planning. It took me completely by surprised and flashed the novel to a brilliant and climactic ending point leaving the life and body of Will Graham shattered.

Thomas Harris’ work as a psycho-thriller writer is still untouched in today’s modern realm. Few characters can reach out and choke the fear from you as Hannibal Lecter and Francis Dolarhyde’s alter ego can. While Dolarhyde couldn’t hold a candle to Lecter himself, as is shown by Hannibal’s manipulation of the man towards his own ends, the Red Dragon still stands as a terrifying character on the cutting edge of created killers.

"Red Dragon” by Thomas Harris
Copyright © 1981 by Yazoo Fabrications, Inc.
Cover art copyright © 2002 by Universal Studios Publishing Rights
Foreword copyright © 2000 by Yazoo Fabrications, Inc.
ISBN: 0-440-20615-4
Published by Dell Publishing, first edition published June 1990.

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