Published by Doubleday
Review by W. R. Greer
Dexter Morgan is a serial killer. It's something which he can't control. When the full moon is out, he is driven by a hunger to kill, spurred on by an unseen force he calls his Dark Passenger. He enjoys his kills, deriving ecstasy from a perfectly performed murder, slowly fileting his victims while they're still alive, leaving no blood behind. He keeps one drop of blood from his victims so that he can relive the thrill of their murder at any time. Dexter Morgan is also the hero in Darkly Dreaming Dexter.
Using a serial killer as the hero is an intriguing twist employed by Jeff Lindsay, and it mostly works. Told in first-person narration by Dexter, he's an interesting and funny tour guide through his life and the inner demon he can't control. He was raised by a foster father, a cop who could tell what lived deep inside Dexter. He taught Dexter two important things: to kill only those who deserved to die and how to leave no evidence behind that would tie him to the crime. Dexter seeks out those who are also driven by an inner evil to victimize others. The novel opens with him dispatching a priest who had murdered orphaned children.
Dexter doesn't consider himself human, but he's developed human-like qualities to provide a cover for who, or what, he really is. There is a woman he dates platonically. He knows how to be charming without any sincerity behind it. He works as a blood splatter specialist for the Miami Police Department. He cares for his foster sister, Deborah, also a cop, but Dexter finds himself incapable of love. That would require him to be human. Dexter sees the dark side of every person and society at large, and almost revels in it. This allows him to deliver his story with a style that is a combination of wry sense of humor and detachment from human emotion.
Another serial killer is murdering local prostitutes, and it has the police department stumped. Deborah works vice and is desperate to get out of that role. She gets herself assigned to the serial murder case and asks Dexter to give her a hand. She's unaware of his own criminal intent, but she knows he always has an intuitive way with the serial murder cases. Deborah, however, lacks any political skills, a real hindrance to any promotion she might want in the police department. Dexter, who understands police politics expertly since he's completely emotionally detached from it, tries to feed Deborah clues and advice how to handle the information he gives her.
The problem for Dexter is that the new serial killer is using Dexter's modus operandi, leaving his victims butchered and bloodless. Unlike Dexter, instead of hiding his crimes, he wants to make a statement with them, leaving the body parts in places and settings chosen for optimal effect. Dexter is torn between finding the killer to have him arrested and finding him to be his partner. His work is so much like Dexter's that Dexter gets intense joy just from seeing the artistry of the other's work. He's agreed to help Deborah, though, and vows to do the right thing. Complications arise for Dexter when he begins to see the other killer doing his crimes in his dreams, and when he sees the results, he knows the dreams must be true. The killer also seems to know Dexter's secret and taunts him about it. It's just a matter of time before Darkly Dreaming Dexter becomes a suspect himself.
Darkly Dreaming Dexter is an inventive approach to the genre, and Dexter's narration and perspectives about crime, punishment, the annoyances of modern life, the inexplicable complications of relationships, the inner workings and non-workings of the police department, and life in Miami provides an enjoyable journey through this novel. It is Dexter's world of serial killing that is unsettling. Jeff Lindsay's portrayal of the demons that drive Dexter is done convincingly and his victims are the scum of the earth. Yet the idea of the hero experiencing ecstasy at the torture and dismemberment of another human being was one aspect that continued to get under my skin. While none of the violence in this novel is explicit, the mutilated bodies posed for shock value still contains a high level of creepiness. Add a confusing ending with questions left unanswered, and it left me debating whether to give Darkly Dreaming Dexter my recommendation or not.
Ultimately, this is a novel that has more going for it than against it. Dexter is an enjoyable sociopath and the mystery he must solve is a complex and interesting one. Darkly Dreaming Dexter never loses its pace or suspense and contains enough humor and insights to be an engaging novel. Each reader should decide beforehand whether the reservations I've mentioned above would detract from their enjoyment of Jeff Lindsay's mystery, because he's now working on his second Dexter book.
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