Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay

Believe it or not, I was aware of this book series before the television series.  I just didn’t get around to reading it.  I have watched the series, though, and liked it.  This book, the one that started it all off, demonstrates that Dexter the television series is faithful in tone.  Darkly Dreaming Dexter has a significant amount of wit mixed in with its gore, with a more nuanced and compelling plot than the first season of the series.

The book starts off with Dexter stalking and eventually killing a priest who had been killing orphan girls.  It’s a definite shock to the system.  I know it’s a relatively common strategy on the part of thriller and mystery writers, but Dexter’s murder gives us insight into what exactly drives his homicidal tendencies — his Dark Passenger.  This component of Dexter’s psyche is essential to understanding what he does, and I think it’s a part of his personality that gets pushed aside in the television series, much to its detriment.

Dexter’s Dark Passenger is a torment for him in a way that is difficult even for him to effectively describe, even to his trusted father Harry.  Having to feed the urges of a part of yourself that seems so foreign in order to drive it back for respite — that must be extraordinarily difficult.  The work is something he enjoys, but is it truly something he would have chosen to do if it weren’t for that Dark Passenger?  That question is raised toward the end of the book in a rather painful, but well-done, way.

I found the choice of first-person narrative here really effective; I don’t think Darkly Dreaming Dexter would work any other way.  We need to be in his head in order to understand, for sure, but we’re also being tricked into sympathizing with a serial killer.  He’s shown to be witty, smart, and scrupulous.  He’s also naïve in an almost child-like way about interpersonal relationships; he’s had to study to figure out how to be a normal person, and the gaps in his education are both awkwardly painful and oddly endearing.  Lindsay does an excellent job of making the reader root for someone who, in another author’s hands, could well be the villain.

My only issue with Lindsay’s book is that it is sometimes too clever or too cute.  There’s a lot of alliteration, which I got tired of after a while.  It’s a good technique for a slogan; it’s not so great as part of the narration.  It almost always jarred me out of the story, which is not a good thing.  I wanted to be engrossed, and this just made it impossible for me to fully immerse myself in the plot.

The bottom line, though, is that Darkly Dreaming Dexter is an excellent example of a thriller with humor.  Lindsay gives us an original idea and follows through extraordinarily well.  I’d be happy to read the rest of the series; I think there must be a lot more to Dexter’s story that the television show just can’t provide.

Rating: 4/5.

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