Darkly Dreaming Dexter (2004)
By: Julian on April 8, 2009  |  Comments ()  |  Share 
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Author: Jeff Lindsay
Publisher: Orion
Pages: 276
Dexter Morgan was introduced to the mainstream via his eponymous Showtime TV series that first aired in late 2006. This gave rise to a great deal of commercial success for the literary series upon which the show was based, already two novels strong. Despite slipping under the radar upon first release, Jeff Lindsay's Darkly Dreaming Dexter is a good crime novel deserving of recognition, despite some gaping deficiencies.

For those who aren't familiar with the TV show or the book, here are the bones of it: Dexter Morgan is a forensic investigator (or more specifically, blood-spatter analyst) working for the Miami-Dade Police Department. His step-sister Deborah works Vice in the PD, dressing up as a hooker to snag curb crawlers. However, Dexter's extracurricular activities could get him into a little bit of strife: he's a serial killer who just kills the bad guys, various undesirables of the paedophile, murderer and rapist ilk that stalk the City of Vice. Dexter's homicidal alter ego, which he dubs "the Dark Passenger" (the novel is narrated in first person), was reigned in at a young age by his foster father Harry when he first noticed his boy taking an unnatural glee in animal hunting and fishing. Harry, a hardened police officer, outlined "Harry's Code", the dogma Dexter lives his warped life by: only kill those who are deserving of it. Dexter manages to suppress "the Dark Passenger" under a thick veneer of charisma he uses liberally, but begrudgingly.

Deborah knows nothing of Dexter's predilections, instead preferring to go about thoroughly disillusioned by her inability to break into Miami-Dade's homicide squad. She puts this down to the vindictive and beautiful Detective LaGuerta, an ambitious career woman who delights in seeing Deborah have her talent squandered, kinkily-dressed, in Vice as she drags in perverted old johns.

It's in this setting that an odd series of murders are being investigated by Detective LaGuerta against the illusory beauty of the Miami shoreline: dismembered limbs and corpses are being found, with not a drop of blood. The clinical and sleek nature appeals to Dexter's personal sensibilities if not his professional ones, and he launches some investigations of his own. These arouse the suspicions of Sergeant Doakes, a bullish investigator who has an unshakable gut feeling about Dexter and some of his more unsavoury activities.

The main problem I thought afflicted Darkly Dreaming Dexter was Lindsay's characterisation. Often Dexter comes across as the most unlikeable, antagonistic, unpleasant guy around, a character whose sheer contempt for the human race is at first acerbically funny, then tiresome, then counterproductive to the story itself. Thankfully, Lindsay reigns himself and his character in before it becomes too much. But none of the key players are terribly likeable - Deborah is just so obsessed with her career, or lack thereof, that she's perpetually hostile; Detective LaGuerta is dumb, nasty and insular and Sergeant Doakes is almost just as much of an antagonist as the killer stalking the streets of Miami in his slavish attempts to track Dexter's every move.

As funny, perceptive and sagacious as Dexter may be, the character development mark is one that Lindsay can't seem to achieve, or just unsuccessfully attempts to portray. It's an unfortunate oversight, and the author seems to rely solely on the reader's love for the antihero. He so often positions Dexter as a Hannibal Lecter for Emos, a man who is so often wallowing in apathy and scorn that it's hard to like him. Further, Darkly Dreaming often veers into farcical soapie situations, be it with Dexter's girlfriend or fighting his sister's battles on the work front, that are just tremendously out of place.

But I digress: Lindsay can often be a very good writer, with the tight narrative, punchy dialogue (when Lindsay isn't focused on Dexter being an emotionless sub-human, the prose is very caustically funny) and sudden bursts of blackly comic violence making it a thoroughly entertaining novel. Provided you can block out some of Dexter's more pervasive social idiosyncrasies (and by "social idiosyncrasies", I don't mean "killing people"), then it's certainly worth picking up. And it's a must for fans of the TV series.
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