Monday, August 10, 2009

Darkly Dreaming Dexter

Darkly Dreaming Dexter

Darkly Dreaming Dexter / Jeff Lindsay
New York : Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 2006
168 p.

Meet Dexter Morgan, a polite wolf in sheep’s clothing. He’s handsome and charming, but something in his past has made him abide by a different set of rules. He’s a serial killer whose one golden rule makes him immensely likeable: he only kills bad people. And his job as a blood splatter expert for the Miami police department puts him in the perfect position to identify his victims. But when a series of brutal murders bearing a striking similarity to his own style start turning up, Dexter is caught between being flattered and being frightened -- of himself or some other fiend.

So obviously I only read this book because I recently watched the first season of Dexter and totally fell in love with it. Considering the character has the potential for astronomical heights of literary complexity that I assumed couldn't be captured in a television show (though it captured a lot), I thought the book would definitely be worth reading: challenging, upsetting, and entertaining, giving the character even more depth for when I watch Season Two.

Yeah um so ok guys, it's not.

Darkly Dreaming Dexter closely follows the plot of the television show.... actually, let me not mislead you: The show follows the book fairly closely until about the last third (of the book.) Basically Dexter is a seriously disturbed, anti-social serial killer who, through the tutelage of his father, has managed to find a way to "fake it" such that he lives a relatively normal life with a job, a girlfriend, and a tendency to bind bad people to a table and chop them into pieces. Y'know, guy stuff. But one day a serial killer enters the scene who leaves no blood in or around his victims, and it eventually comes out that he knows Dexter's secret and is toying with him. The story is largely a mystery, so I'll stop summarizing there. Other key players include his sister, a Miami cop who wants to make detective; the incompetent detective in charge of the case, LaGuerta; and... that's it. There aren't many characters in this book.... oh, unless you count the "Dark Passenger."

Let's talk about the Dark Passenger, because he (it?) is part of what made this book so weak. The DP is something that shares Dexter's mind and makes him want to kill. When Dexter gets the urge, during a full moon, eventually the DP takes over his body and makes him do what he does.... or something. It's very unclear, but the problem is that it cheapens Dexter's character into a lame multiple-personality-disorder patient instead of the rich psychotic he could be. Add to that the unrefined writing style, shallow characters, and a detective story solved not by the clever sprinkling and collection of clues but by Dexter's weird psychic ability that tells him all the answers, and you end up with a great story idea with a poor execution.

I don't want you to think I'm a snob or especially a hypocrite for saying "unrefined language" (because I can't write my way out of a paper bag). I don't expect Pulitzer prose from everyone, but Lindsay has a tendency -- to borrow the old favorite -- to tell instead of showing. Dexter is antisocial because the author says so, not because of any evidence. In fact, he's really rather normal if you believe what you see instead of what you're told. And when we get into his head, it's all questions. He's constantly asking himself questions, and half the time we know the answer to them. It's silly.

And don't get me started on how Dexter constantly thinks he's the one who commits the "bad guy's" murders in his sleep. We have definitive evidence that Dexter is NOT at fault during the first half of the book, not to mention the fact that if Dexter WERE responsible, any decent author would make that a twist ending. So Dexter's agonizing over it, and the reader is busy saying "Don't be such a boob!" It's all very frustrating.

So the book is ultimately forgettable. But do check out the show if you haven't seen it. The author did have some great ideas that made it in there.

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