Jeff Lindsay,
Darkly Dreaming Dexter
(Vintage, 2006)

For a serial killer, Dexter Morgan is a surprisingly likeable character. By day, he works for the Miami Metro Police Department as a blood-splatter specialist. By night, he's off killing people who deserve to die -- you know, the dregs of society who may have gotten off easy in court, the sinister humans who show no hints of stopping their murderous rages any time soon.

Dexter may be a killer too, but he's a killer for the people. A protector of the innocent.

His story takes a turn one sunny day in Miami, however, when Dexter receives a call from sister Deb, who works for the same police department, concerning the death of yet another prostitute. Dexter is intrigued by the remains (more so than usual) because the limbs and bones and excess skin are missing a fairly essential part: blood. Soon enough, more bodies end up all over Miami, severed heads are thrown at car windshields, Barbie parts are discovered in freezers, another expired prostitute ends up in a hockey arena, and so on. All are pieces to one, gigantic mystery puzzle that Dexter takes upon himself to crack. And its final result, including the human responsible for the mess, proves to have unexpected, albeit significant ties to Dexter's past. Oh, what fun indeed.

The snappy, quickly paced Darkly Dreaming Dexter is over before you know it. At just 288 pages, I had no trouble propping this one on my lap and polishing off its final chapter before the day was done. Jeff Lindsay's narrative reads like butter. (Don't ask me to elaborate on what that means.) What I mean to say is it's captivating enough to hold your interest through Dexter's final monologue. And this is coming from someone who already knew how it would end, given that I had already seen the first season of Showtime's Dexter, which is loosely based on Lindsay's novel.

But I have to say between the original book and Showtime's TV show, I choose the adaptation over the novel by Lindsay, who seems to be so transfixed on his main story that he fails to incorporate any of the other important things that are usually necessary for a book to be deemed satisfying, like strong characters. Instead, his characters feel hollow and merely exist to play out character stereotypes that Lindsay feels are required for his narrative. Need an angry black man? Here's Sgt. James Doakes. Sassy, sexed-up Cuban? Try Detective LaGuerta. Even Dexter's relationship with troubled Rita, which is studied so closely in the series, reserves just a few brief mentions in the book. The only character with any real substance is Dexter, and that's only because we as readers are constantly in his head. He narrates the book in first person.

Darkly Dreaming Dexter offers readers an exciting story with some good twists, but not much else. For those who have yet to treat themselves to the complex life of Dexter Morgan, I suggest beginning with the TV series before opening Lindsay's book.

review by
Eric Hughes

28 February 2009

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