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Book Cover Image: Red Dragon by Thomas HarrisTitle: Red Dragon
Author: Thomas Harris
Narrator: Alan Sklar
Length of Audiobook: 12 hours, 6 minutes
Genre: Horror

”Exploring both the nature of human evil and the nerve-racking anatomy of a forensic investigation, Harris unleashes a frightening vision of the dark side of our well-lighted world. In this extraordinary novel, Harris introduced the unforgettable character Dr. Hannibal Lecter. And in it, Will Graham—the FBI man who hunted Lecter down—risks his sanity and his life to duel a killer called the…Red Dragon”

Thoughts: Touted as the introduction of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon is really one detective’s search for a new serial killer. Will Graham retired from the FBI to focus on his new wife and stepson, but when a mysterious serial killer strikes again, the FBI has no choice but to call back their best agent. Graham then uses his skills as an investigator and the power of the US government and their expertise at forensic evidence to track down this unknown foe. With very little in the way of clues, Graham knows it is just a matter of time before the Dragon strikes again. Can he do it?

It has all the stereotypical elements that one would expect in such a novel. Graham is the disgruntled, depressed retired FBI agent who is called back into action as the only man who can help the Feds solve the mystery and catch the killer. Graham has a mystical ability to intuit answers to his questions, making him a legend among the Feds. The Dragon is an unassuming, quiet man – the kind the neighbors would never suspect – with all sorts of psychological Mommy issues, each presented to show the reader just how an innocent child can turn into a serial killer. There is even a plot twist that is meant to surprise readers into thinking it is all over. In reality, there are just one too many overdone plot elements to create a story that is as predictable as it is flat.

The problem with such novels is that a reader can see the potential and struggles to reconcile the “if only” with the actuality of the story. Mr. Harris provides enough hints at Graham’s backstory to intrigue readers and to create the potential for depth of character, but he fails to go farther than those hints. A reader is frustrated with the idea that there is more to Will Graham than the book will ever express, and his entire character suffers from that lack of exploration. Similarly, Francis Dolarhyde’s past is tragic and, if explored in enough detail, could really make this sinister character much more sympathetic and therefore interesting. Instead, the details give just enough background for a reader to understand the psychological trauma to which Dolarhyde is exposed as a child but goes no further. In fact, his current mental state is never completely explored either, something that is particularly lacking given his anguish over Rita’s fate. All of these “what if” scenarios that a reader can so easily see do nothing but weaken an already frail storyline because they allow the reader to focus on the unfulfilled potential rather than on the story at hand.

Fans of Dr. Hannibal Lecter will be disappointed at his lack of participation in the story. While it may be his introduction, Lecter is nothing more than a minor side character. He is supposed to provide similar support to Graham as he does to Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs, but in Red Dragon  his contribution is even less involved. His crimes are never fully discussed, and his participation in the manhunt is limited to letters. Lecter remains nothing but a sinister but fairly ineffective figure in the background. It is a disappointment that Harris felt the need to use the Lecter name to entice readers to select the book and then make such a famous villain so conspicuously absent from the overarching story.

Alan Sklar has a tremendous voice but one that is not necessarily conducive to a pleasant audiobook experience. His voice is too deep and gravelly to even begin to mimic female voices, so his come across as strained and slightly condescending. His distinction between male characters leaves a lot to be desired too since his very slight tonal modulations and pronunciations are too subtle to allow a reader to easily distinguish among them. His booming basso truly fits the vocalization of the Dragon though, which was a great counterpoint to the overall meekness and sycophancy of Francis. Unfortunately, a listener’s lack of enjoyment of the audiobook is as much the fault of the narrator as it is the fault of this mediocre story. Mr. Sklar works decently within the confines he was given. Some of that which is lacking is due to his performance, but a large majority of it is the ineffectiveness of the author’s own words.

Red Dragon is a fairly poor example of a horror story. There is gore but it is rather subdued and exists as nothing but vague post-mortem descriptions. The story itself is predictable and anti-climactic. Character development is negligible as well. A reader does not get the chance to explore the psychopathy of the Dragon, and Will Graham’s seemingly psychic ability to hunt down killers is never fully explored. The entire story is very superficial and without a strong level of tension to maintain a reader’s interest. Those expecting to learn more about Hannibal Lecter will be disappointed at how little he appears throughout the novel. The entire story is disappointing for its lack of mystery and suspense. There are more suspenseful and better written horror mysteries out there to warrant keeping Red Dragon on a TBR pile.

Acknowledgments: Mine. All mine.

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