I have been looking forward to writing about the book Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay.
Many will probably be familiar with the TV series of the same name based on the Dexter books. While the series are not too far off the mark, the book has it’s own supply of Dexterisms which make it worthwhile.
The plot is quite original. Dexter, the main character, has some very serious flaws in his personality; he is what one in another setting would call a homicidal maniac. Dexter experiences practically no human emotions and finds it difficult to understand people around him, since he is, essentially, without empathy. There is a side of him which compels him to kill – his Dark Passenger, as he calls it – which comes to him with great temptation. Dexter enjoys killing and doing it well, with meticulous preparation and flawless execution.
Now, that makes him elegible for the role of Bad Guy in thousands of books already written and read, but – there is a twist to this one, because Dexter was adopted as a child by Harry Morgan, or as Dexter refers to him in his internal monologue, The Good Cop. And at an early stage in Dexter’s life, Harry pulls him aside and tells him that – yes, he knows that Dexter is different. And he knows what Dexter did to the neighbour’s dog, which disappeared. And Harry explains to him that sometimes, being a policeman doesn’t make the necessary difference, sometimes one simply can not stay within the lines and still get the job done. So maybe there is something to be said for someone like Dexter if he can learn to control his urges and direct his focus in the right direction since – “There are plenty of people, who deserve it, Dexter”.
This advice sets Dexter in the direction where we find him in this book – as a forensic investigator in Miami, a scientist specialised in blood spatter. He follows his everyday work and comes into contact with those that need the kind of attention that the police force can not provide. Dexter examines the situation carefully and deals with it – cleans it up, so to speak – in accordance with the code of Harry. His step sister Deborah, who is an officer in the Vice department but hates it and hopes to find a place for herself in Homicide, comes to Dexter from time to time to seek his advice, since he seems to understand the killers’ minds quite well. Dexter has learned to act normal and charming – and he has his place and does a good job without raising anyone’s attention.
What makes the book interesting – especially compared to the TV series – are the ongoing debates Dexter has with himself. A good example of this and the language used in the book is the reflection he has on having caught the attention of detective LaGuerta, an extremely ambitious woman in the Homicide department:
LaGuerta is very very good at kissing ass, a world-class ass kisser. She kissed ass all the way up to the lofty rank of homicide investigator. Unfortunately, it is a job where her skills at posterior smooching were never called for, and she was a terrible detective.
It happens; incompetence is rewarded more often than not. I have to work with her anyway. So I have used my considerable charm to make her like me. Easier than you might think. Anybody can be charming if they don’t mind faking it, saying all the stupid, obvious, nauseating things that a conscience keeps most people from saying. Happily, I don’t have a conscience. I say them.
Now, who wouldn’t like to have written that? It is a very good image of Dexter’s charming pragmatism and pragmatic charm. The case which Dexter works with LaGuerta on is an important theme of the story. As the story progresses, Dexter becomes increasingly fascinated with the way the murders are carried out – the killer’s neatness and cleanliness affect him deeply. I shall spare you you the spoilers.
However unlikely it seems, Dexter has a girlfriend, or what one should call it – Rita, a woman he goes out with, who has an emotionally very rough background and has remained reluctant to get more deeply involved, which, if not for the same reasons, echoes how Dexter likes it. They are not without conflict, however, and once again, Dexter tries to handle it the way a normal person would, even if he does not entirely understand what is going on:
I stopped once more, at a small dark park almost to Rita’s house, and washed off carefully. I had to be neat and presentable; getting yelled at by a furious woman should be treated as a semiformal occasion.
But imagine my surprise when I rang her doorbell a few minutes later. She did not fling wide the door and begin to hurl furniture and abuse at me. In fact, she opened the door very slowly and carefully, half hiding behind it, as if badly frightened of what might be waiting on the other side. And considering that it was me waiting, this showed rare common sense.
The last sentence goes a long way to show Dexter’s perception of himself as powerful and monstrous. The author does a good job with keeping up Dexter’s internal debate through the book, although it also seems he sometimes gets a little carried away with the concept and premise of the book. There are a few short passages, where Dexter’s preoccupation with killing people becomes almost whimsical, a flimsy gag, like in the following passage:
While the coffee brewed, I checked for the newspaper, more out of hope than expectation. It was rare for the paper to arrive before six-thirty, and on Sundays it often came after eight. It was another clear example of the disintegration of society that had so worried Harry. Really, now: If you can’t get me my newspaper on time, how can you expect me to refrain from killing people?
I trust you see my point.
In closing: Darkly Dreaming Dexter is a good thriller based on an interesting idea. Using the Dexter character means a lot of unexpected changes of focus and pace through the book, and this dynamic works quite well. Dexter’s distanced observations are very descriptive and sometimes very funny. As this is only the first book in a still-growing series, it will be interesting to see if Jeff Lindsay can keep up the unique tone in the books to come. I suspect it will either become overly forced or develop into a more distrinct and clearly established style – one can feel in this first book that the author is experimenting with the Dexterverse.