I haven’t properly read pulp fiction in many, many years. That is probably why when I was going through my dry reading period last month, I felt increasingly drawn towards books that would entertain me without demanding too much of my little grey cells. I finally picked up The Confession by John Grisham and Red Dragon by Thomas Harris.
Now I have a little confession of my own to make. The only Grisham I read before this was The Pelican Brief. I tried reading The Runaway Jury for years, but I would get bored after the first couple of chapters. I’m not sure why that is. I found The Pelican Brief to be quite the page-turner, and The Confession was just as gripping. It’s one of those books where the blurb at the back grabs your attention and book itself mostly lives up to its promise. Donte Drumm is four days from execution. Nine years ago, he was arrested and tried for the abduction, rape and murder of a popular high school cheerleader. The case seemed air-tight to everyone: the police, the victim’s family, the DA, the judge and the jury. Except that there was simply no evidence that Drumm had committed the crime. On the contrary, there was plenty of evidence that he did not have anything to do with it, and his tireless attorney Robbie Flak has been doing everything he can to stop the impending execution. However, the police and the system think they have their man and they simply want to shut such an ugly case up.
Then, just days before the execution, the real culprit surfaces. He’s a drifter and former convict with a history of sexual assault, and he’s dying of cancer. He now wants to confess. But of course, its not so easy, and plenty of precious time is wasted before Boyette can get anyone to listen to him.
The book is more than just a crime thriller: it addresses racial prejudices that continue to exist in the USA and more importantly, it takes an uncompromising stand against the death penalty. By the end, however, the novel becomes a bit of a soap box for Grisham and his reformist fervor mars the narrative flow.
I watched the movie before I read the book, so I knew what was coming. However, while watching the movie I did feel like I couldn’t quite get a grip on why exactly Agent Will Graham is so troubled and what his special gift is. I also wanted a clearer glimpse into the warped mind of serial killer Francis Dolarhyde. The book provided reasonably clear answers to both. In a nutshell, Red Dragon is about a serial killer nicknamed Tooth Fairy who has gruesomely murdered two families. In the race to prevent a third such attack and apprehend the killer, Special Agent Jack Crawford gets his protege Will Graham on the case. Graham, who has been retired for three years after notorious serial killer Hannibal Lecter almost disemboweled him, is understandably reluctant. Nevertheless, he is persuaded to join the hunt for the Tooth Fairy and even visits Lecter in jail to gain some insight into this new killer’s MO. Lecter not just taunts him, but also sends Tooth Fairy, with whom he has been corresponding, after Will and his family.
Dolarhyde, in the meantime, has fallen in love with a blind co-worker named Reba and seems to be trying hard to stop his murderous urges. But salvation isn’t so easy and as the book races towards a chilling climax, we find out what exactly made Dolarhyde the monster that he is today (abused childhood, naturally) and why Will is so indispensable to cases like this (he has a uniquely empathetic bent of mind, which often gives him flashes of understanding of killers’ motivations).
Lecter himself appears disappointingly little in this novel. Apart from sending Tooth Fairy to kill Will and his family, he doesn’t do anything else particularly nefarious, but even in his limited scenes he does quite a good job of taunting the tortured Agent Graham. I just might read Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal and Hannibal Rising to find out more about him.