So, here we have the inevitable paperback re-issue of Thomas Harris' incredible original Hannibal Lecter novel from 1981, Red Dragon.
This particular re-release is of course to coincide with the imminent release of the big budget movie adaptation in the cinema, and Sir Anthony Hopkins' face now adorns the cover (although this will be different on the USA re-issue cover)
The novel itself should need no introduction. Despite the huge success of it's sequels - The Silence of the Lambs (SOTL) and Hannibal, Red Dragon remains Harris' finest book to date, although in fairness I have not read his first novel which was Black Sunday. However, that story did not feature Dr. Hannibal Lecter - he made his debut in this serial killer thriller.
Unlike SOTL and Hannibal, The Good Doctor spends all of his time safely behind bars in Red Dragon. This will be a turn off to fans of the other books I suspect, but the important thing to remember is that Hannibal has only a small part in this story. A crucial role, of course, but nevertheless his "on-screen" time (as it were) is very small indeed. This was accurately reflected by Michael Mann in his 1986 movie adaptation - "Manhunter" (where Brian Cox played Lecter), but I suspect that due to the casting of Hopkins for Red Dragon, this will change for the new movie version. More flashbacks are likely to feature, including Lecter's original capture I suspect.
The strength of Red Dragon is not really the introduction of Dr. Lecter in my opinion. The story has two other characters who are far more interesting, namely retired FBI investigator Will Graham and serial killer lunatic Francis Dolarhyde. Graham was the man who actually managed to put Lecter behind bars (respect!). However, his capture came at a high personal price to Graham - Lecter visciously attacked him during the arrest, which resulted in physical and mental health problems leading to his retirement. However, when a new serial killer nicknamed "The Tooth Fairy" (Dolarhyde) starts brutally murdering innocent families seemingly at random, Graham returns ...
Readers who enjoyed SOTL will be pleased to know that Jack Crawford also features in Red Dragon, but remember that these events take place before SOTL, so there's no Clarice Starling this time. Seeing as Graham is a much more interesting character however, this is not a problem as you will discover.
Plot and structure wise, Red Dragon is at times very similar to SOTL. For example, Graham visits Lecter in his cell for help, with the hope that it will lead to the capture of The Tooth Fairy. This is of course extremely similar to Starling visiting Lecter for help with the Buffalo Bill case in SOTL. Fortunately, Lecter makes no escape this time, but cunningly he still manages to harm Graham's chances, despite never leaving his cell. There are other similarities throughout, but this should not count against the overall calibre of the novel.
In conclusion, it will be interesting to see the forthcoming movie adaptation, particularly seeing as Manhunter already exists, which was itself an excellent adaptation. Make sure you read this novel though before seeing the film. Harris offers a lot of extra detail within the pages which is sure to be cut from the new film, just as it was for Manhunter. Enjoy!