Dearly Devoted Dexter (2005)
By: Julian on April 27, 2009  |  Comments ()  |  Share 
 
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Author: Jeff Lindsay
Publisher: Orion
Pages: 296
If you liked Darkly Dreaming Dexter you'll love this to bits, the most intelligent and refined distillation of our antihero (is he a protagonist?) Dexter Morgan. Jeff Lindsay opens the novel with Dexter, Miami-Dade PD's resident blood-spatter analyst and local vigilante, having some business to attend to, namely in the form of the thoroughly reprehensible MacGregor, a paedophile who lures children to his boat, photographs them, then murders them.

But preventing Dexter from carrying out his brutally efficient handiwork is Sergeant Doakes, the straight-laced copper whose stubborn determination to catch Morgan doing something incriminating (Doakes doesn't seem to know what; he just knows that Dexter's up to something sinister) is seriously putting a spanner in the works. Dexter's been forced to abandon plans more than once and his alternative is, as many blokes are wont to do, to head to his girlfriend's place. Dexter's girlfriend Rita is very much in love with him and so are her two children (from an abusive past relationship) so instead of heading out dispatching the bad guys, Dexter is rendered to the banalities of a life couch-bound, sipping beer and entertaining kids.

Things spice up significantly when a body appears, and it's one of the most horrendous crimes Miami's finest have had to deal with: still breathing and semi-conscious, dismembered and appallingly disfigured. The crime hits a sore point for Sergeant Doakes and he has the reinforcements shipped in: enter Kyle Chutsky, a Washington-based detective with mysterious past links to Doakes. Further complicating the situation is Chutsky's romantic involvement with Dexter's sister Deborah, who has finally broken through and made Homicide.

The links emerge: the perpetrator is one Dr Danco, who is turning Miami upside down for the men who betrayed him in the Salvadorian Civil War - Doakes and Chutsky included.

The plot of Dearly Devoted Dexter is far more interesting than Darkly Dreaming Dexter which, when put into the context of the series of novels, was essentially only a character development piece. Dr Danco is a far more worthy antagonist for Dexter's begrudging admiration and pursuit than what the Ice Truck Killer was, and the expansion of the Doakes-Dexter relationship, one of the most interesting elements of the first novel, was terrific. Further, Dearly Devoted can often be a very dark book - read beneath Dexter's apathetic narration of the crimes and we are dealing with some twisted, twisted material. The novel adopts a really grimy, stalk-and-slash feel sometimes (and more than just Dexter-versus-Miami Public Enemy Number 1) and generally carries far more of a psychological horror quality than what the first book does. In many respects, this quality is what makes it a more successful novel than Darkly Dreaming Dexter .

What's unfortunate is how Lindsay has chosen to place an unnecessary emphasis on Dexter's relationship with Rita, an irrelevant aside that presumably served to humanise one of the most inhuman protagonists in popular fiction. It's hard to relate to a social retard, or a sociopathic killer (even if it is only of the bad guys), and the anemic scenes of drunken sex and a fishing trip aren't interesting - they're distracting. And that's to say nothing of lame - when Dexter's situation descends into domestic farce that even Basil Fawlty would find unbelievable, you know you've hit a creative lull.

It's frustrating, because there are chapters during which Dearly Devoted Dexter is firmly a five-star novel, with Lindsay fusing interesting plot scenarios with scalpel-sharp, lucid writing. Dexter can alternately engender sympathy and repulsion in a reader, which is exactly the sort of thing we want from a homicidal, vigilante antihero. But, and while less so than its predecessor, Dearly Devoted Dexter is just too uneven. While Dexter's often infuriating self-loathing is toned down in this novel, it's still far too overstated, and Lindsay too often loses track of what his book is - a blackly comic crime novel, not melodramatic bargain bin dreck. Among the best of Dearly Devoted's saving graces is that its eminently readable and because of this, Lindsay deserves to keep the annoying fucker going.
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