Monday, May 18, 2015

Book Review: Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay

Darkly Dreaming Dexter

Written by: Jeff Lindsay

Published: 2004

Synopsis: 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.(via Goodreads)


“Really now: If you can't get me my newspaper on time, how can you expect me to refrain from killing people?”

When I started watching Dexter I had no idea it was based on a book series. I distinctly remember my mum bringing the dvd of the first season home from work one day, and us then spending an entire Sunday watching through the whole show. Actually, that might be the first example of me binge watching TV and it's all my mum's fault. That's a load off my shoulders. 

Anyway, I only found out it was based on a book series a few years after it began airing on TV when the author, Jeff Lindsay, came to the Brisbane Writers Festival. I sat in on a few of his talks and thought he seemed fascinating and really interesting and made a mental note to actually read one of the Dexter books. And then the TV show started (in my opinion) to go downhill and I swore of Dexter, and moved on to Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones and whatever else began at about the same time. Cut to 2 months ago when I was killing time in a charity shop and found a copy of Darkly Dreaming Dexter for a wallet-busting $2. All of my promises to read the series flooded back and I decided to give book Dexter a go at redeeming his reputation after TV Dexter did such a dismal job.

If you've seen the TV show, this first book follows the first season fairly closely. We get introduced to Dexter and the folks of the Miami-Dade police department and the crux of the novel follows the "ice truck killer" (although it's never called that in the book) and some exploration of Dexter's childhood and how Harry's code (i.e. you're going to kill anyway, so kill bad guys) began. There's some interesting parallels drawn between the two killers and their styles, and reading about a serial killer through the eyes of another serial killer is quite an interesting perspective to take.

There are some clear differences between the book and the series and they boil down to two things. First, the characters. Deb is still his sister, Masuoka (Masuka in the show) is still creepy and Doakes doesn't like Dexter, but LaGuerta is quite different and Angel is a medical examiner, rather than a cop. Dexter's relationship with Rita is also a very minor part of the book. The second actually builds off the first, and it's that this is almost entirely Dexter's story. The book rarely delves into the other characters outside of conversations they have with Dexter or if he happens to catch them looking at him. This makes a lot of sense given that he's meant to be a sociopath and he's depicted as quite egocentric, but the great thing about expanding the view outside of his POV in the show, is that we are reminded that, oh yeah, he's a goddamn monster.

The idea to only kill bad guys in an interesting one. It sometimes feels like Dexter has a superpower, and instead of channeling it towards evil he uses it for the good of the city. When you hear him talk about Miami and the decay that has set in, the drugs and gangs and murder, it's hard not to think that he's doing the police a solid. Clearing the trash that they can't legally touch because of tricky things like evidence and motive. But it's a lot like Walter White in Breaking Bad. Sure, he's doing it for his family! He wants them to have money to survive after he dies of cancer, so selfless! So loving! Then you remember he's cooking meth, and that there are probably a lot of families being destroyed because of that meth, and a lot of lives cut short because he's decided that this is the best way he can provide for his family. Dexter's code to kill the big bads is nice in theory, until you remember he's a serial killer. HE MURDERS PEOPLE. Who is he to decide someone deserves to die? Who is he to decide that a rapist should disappear into a bunch of garbage bags, rather than see the inside of a court room. Who made him judge, juror and executioner? Because otherwise he'd kill decent people? That's not really much of an option. That's one reason I wish the books pulled back from his perspective a bit. He refers to himself as not human countless times, but without a proper outside perspective it's hard to step back and actually see him as the monster he says he is.

The book is a really easy read. I don't love Jeff Lindsay's writing style, it's quite stilted at points and some of Dexter's dialogue just didn't work for me. I also found all of the characters quite flat, but it's hard to say whether this is intentional because the book is being told from the perspective of a sociopath, someone who admits to neither caring nor understanding the way people think and act. All in all it makes for a quick and entertaining read, I just don't know that I'll bother reading any more unless I can find similar deals at the charity shop.


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