Just to get it out of the way so I don’t rant about it: read this book if you are unfamiliar of what “head-hopping” means and why it’s a treacherous tool used by writers.
In relation to Psycho and The Church of Dead Girls, Red Dragon does do a better job of giving the psycho his time to shine in the story. For CDG, the psycho killer was more just the impetus for the story, so a lack of him was understandable. Psycho took place in a short span of time where, while you got to know Norman Bates, things were still rushed due to events occurring in the story. Francis Dolarhyde, luckily, gets the chance to be a fully fleshed out character that the reader can empathize with. But i think that is part of the reason this is a flawed story.
To make Dolarhyde more than psycho killer, like Hannibal Lecter, Thomas Harris had to give a defined background to justify Dolarhyde’s current personality, and personal conflicts in which to grow through out the book. But because of those two things and they way they were executed, I began to lose empathy for him.
Let’s look at the background. I don’t think it was bad, but I think it wad badly managed. It all comes in the last third of the where signs point to an approaching climax and we suddenly get three or four chapters of backstory. It’s better than the two chapters on whaling in Moby Dick, because it connected back to the story, but worse in that all at the end of the story and I would want that information spread out so as the action builds, my empathy for him builds. In this instance, I have to say the movie portrayed all of this much better than the book with that sweeping shot traveling through the house and we hear the “echoes of the past.”
Up until the introduction of Reba McClane, Dolarhyde was a lot like Lecter. He was an inhuman being, pretending to be human. But once Reba comes in–again in the last third of the book–as a love interest, Harris uses that to try to make him human. By doing that, he ultimately destroys the effectiveness of Dolarhyde as a psycho. First, I’ve read a lot of stories that involve schizophrenics, good and bad, and it’s very hard to believe that after one act of sex that Dolarhyde would suddenly start to hear voices telling him to kill. It reeks of deus ex machina. Harris had to see that by leading Dolarhyde down this path, he’s not going to get the ending he wants, so he has to contrive this voice of the Dragon to be at conflict with him. If there were mentioned of him hearing The Dragon before, it would have been more palatable–no pun intended. Then it would have just been like Golem in the Lord of the Rings. Second, like monsters, you can go one of two ways if they are going to be a POV character: completely human or completely inhuman. but trying to play both in the story never works. Dolarhyde starts of the book as an inhuman killer, much like Lecter. His methods and precision are terrifying. He is untraceable. He’s a boogeyman. With the inclusion of the background information that then leads directly into the relationship Reba, there is an intentional shift in trying to re-characterize Dolarhyde as a human. You don’t see a lot of that happen because to do that in a book you would need the length of it to really portray the mental journey needed to change that kind of character. You also have to stick with that journey till the ultimate revelation of the killers humanity. By doing neither of the things, Harris confuses the purpose of Dolarhyde and his effectiveness as a metaphor within the story.