Friday, 17 January 2014

Darkly Dreaming Dexter, by Jeff Lindsay (4.5*)

(Orion Books, 2005)

"If I am ever careless enough to be caught, they will say I am a sociopathic monster, a sick and twisted demon who is not even human, and they will probably send me to die in Old Sparky with a smug self-righteous glow."

Dexter Morgan is a nice guy.  He has a sweet girlfriend whose kids adore him, he gets on well with his foster sister Deborah, and he's fantastic at his job, working in forensics as a blood spatter analyst.  Those spookily accurate hunches he gets during homicide investigations... well, they just make him even more of an asset to the police department, right?  No, actually.  Dexter's 'hunches' stem from personal experience.  Because Dexter Morgan is a sociopath and a serial killer.  Thanks to a hefty amount of teenage guidance from his late foster father, wise cop Harry, he channels his need to kill into a vigilante-style hunt for bad guys who've escaped the law, and with his finely honed and careful methods, he's never been caught.  Except now there's a new serial killer in town.  And with his rapidly increasing body count and sly personal 'messages' that no one else understands, it seems that maybe Dexter finally has a playmate...

I'd obviously heard about Dexter, the TV series, a long time ago, and the premise really appealed.  When I realised it was based - at least the first series, anyway - on a book, I knew I had to get hold of a copy.  So I waited, and looked, and waited some more, and finally this first book in the series arrived at the bookshop and IT WAS MINE.  It came home with me the same day.  I bought the next three in a '3 for £5' remainder deal when I was out with Hanna last year, and thank heavens I did, because I LOVED THIS BOOK SO HARD.  I wasn't expecting that much because both Hanna and Sarah had already mentioned that they didn't rate it, but WOW this was a good reminder that sometimes good old-fashioned gut instinct is a better guide to what you'll enjoy than what other bloggers think.  Y'know, like how we used to pick our books BEFORE the blogosphere took over.  Good times...

What made the novel for me was definitely Dexter Morgan himself.  Like R in Warm Bodies, his compelling narrative voice is a means of rendering a rather dark and macabre subject matter (and a potentially frightening character) more readable, more enjoyable, more absorbing and yes, more amusing.  I loved how playful his narrative was at times, twisting words into alliterative flights of description, often making me chuckle at the bone-dry, midnight black humour and well-placed jabs of sarcasm.  At the same time, as you might imagine, the 'Dark Passenger' (as Dexter calls his inner killer) is a threatening and ever-shifting presence in the background, and Lindsay never lets us forget - via little glimpses of this instinct, and via Dexter's constant awareness of his sociopathy and the need to appear 'human' - that our friendly forensics geek is actually a deadly menace whose benevolence in his choice of victims can only be maintained with absolutely rigid self-control.

This, perhaps, for someone with a keen interest in social sciences, psychology and mental health, was what made the novel as a whole so fascinating.  Dexter is fascinating.  The way he so closely emulates human emotion while understanding so little of it is fascinating.  The way he sees himself as a monster, as an outsider, yet works so hard to fit in is fascinating.  The way he lives so rigorously by 'the code of Harry', the way he respects his foster father's memory despite not being able to love him, is fascinating.  The way he will gleefully enjoy killing a serial rapist or a murdering paedophile, but his girlfriend Rita's kids absolutely adore him, is fascinating.  I guess this is probably what draws people to the TV show too - this is a unique character, and watching his constant struggle to appear 'normal' makes him a hugely interesting and even sympathetic protagonist.

Of course, Dexter isn't the only character worth mentioning.  His cop sister Deb is a lot of fun - feisty, foul-mouthed yet strangely vulnerable - and her political manoeuvring against inept Detective Maria LaGuerta is quite a compelling subplot, particularly as each time LaGuerta gets something wrong it has further implications for Dexter's own interest in the new serial killer.  The dialogue was occasionally a tad clunky, but it improved if I read it sort-of aloud, like maybe it had more to do with the fact that I was silently reading it in my own accent, which didn't work very well.  Does that make sense?  The other key characters - like Angel, Doakes and even Dex's girlfriend Rita - don't play a huge part in this book, but I'm assuming they'll maybe get more page time in the next few novels.  I also really enjoyed the Cuban influences in the book.  I had no idea that Miami had such strong Cuban culture (ssssshhh, Brit girl here), so that was a kind of fun bonus for me.  Maybe more so in the TV series, where a lot of the (fantastic) soundtrack has a distinctive Cuban flavour.

To sum up... well, did I mentioned that I loved this book?  I think me and Dexter are going to get on just fine for the rest of the book series as well as all eight seasons of the show (which I just bought after enjoying the first half of my sister's season 1 box set).  He might be one of the most interesting and complex characters I've ever read, and I liked the occasional flights of word play and almost poetic narrative moments coupled with his constant adjustments of expression and action to bring himself back to 'normal' so that the world won't know the truth.  If I knew where the hell I'd put those next three books I'd probably have read on by now - but since I don't, I'm going to finish season 1 of the TV series and go from there!

Notable Quotables:
  • "In spite of feeling so very moved by the thing, I didn't have any immediate theories about what it meant.  Sometimes great art is like that.  It affects you and you can't say why."
  • "I began to feel unsettled, dizzy, confused, hyperactive and lethargic at the same time.  I walked to the window and looked out.  It was dark now and far away over the water a light rose up into the sky and at the sight of it a small and evil voice rose up to meet it from somewhere deep inside."
  • "I felt the Dark Passenger become the new driver for the first time.  Dexter became understated, almost invisible, the light-coloured stripes on a sharp and transparent tiger.  I blended in, almost impossible to see, but I was there and I was stalking, circling in the wind to find my prey.  In that tremendous flash of freedom, on my way to do the Thing for the first time, sanctioned by almighty Harry, I receded, faded back into the scenery of my own dark self, while the other me crouched and growled.  I would do It at last, do what I had been created to do.  And I did."
  • "Weren't we all crazy in our sleep?  What was sleep, after all, but the process by which we dumped our insanity into a dark subconscious pit and came out on the other side ready to eat cereal instead of the neighbour's children?"

Source:  I nicked this book from our shop as soon as it came in, because I knew it was the first in the series and I wanted to give it a try!


  1. I've heard from a lot of sources that the books are OK but not amazing. Good to know you enjoyed this one. I think I'll probably stick to the TV show but I've only seen a few episodes. It's one of those things I keep seeing on Netflix and saying I'll get roud to it soon.

    1. I think Dexter's voice just really clicked with me. He's strangely sweet for a serial killer, and he's FUNNY. Black humour usually goes down well with me in a novel. My sister already had season 1 of the series so I've seen most of that now, but it's so good that I went straight out and bought the rest with a chunk of my Christmas money. IT'S GOOD ELLIE, YOU SHOULD GET ON THAT. :)

  2. Ooh, I read this a couple of years ago (some anonymous colleague had left a copy in the staffroom) and loved it. I didn't read very far into the series, though - book two was very gruesome and squicked me out enough that I didn't read on, and also the library copy had gone missing - but your review reminded me how much I enjoyed the first one, and I'd love to go back to the series. I haven't seen the TV show, but my sister has some of the series on DVD so I might have to get them off her.

    1. Hooray, another one for the 'yay Dexter' side! I was starting to think I was the only one to enjoy the book! I'll be interested to see how well my stomach fares with the next book then - the humour really helped in book 1 - because I want to get round to my ultimate iron-stomach test sometime this year: reading American Psycho. I started it as a teenager and it made me feel so sick I couldn't read very far. I'm not as squeamish now so it'll be interesting to see how I get on!

      YES, borrow the box sets off your sister. Chunks of series 1 - especially the first few episodes - are lifted almost word-for-word from the book, which was interesting. Obviously there are 12 episodes so there are way more subplots and extra, um, 'Dark Passenger activity', which keeps things good and lively. Try it, I want to know what you think!

  3. I didn't read very far in this series but my husband loves them. I actually prefer the show (never thought I'd utter those words regarding books and TV) and from what I remember, the story lines start to split off really quickly so if you enjoy both, it won't be too repetitive. I definitely recommend at least the first couple of seasons of the show though!

  4. I've read 4 books in this series. All but book 3 were good (book 3 goes off the track), and while I don't like it as much as the series, it definitely appeals to my darker reads craving. ;]

  5. This is a series I've been meaning to try. I've never seen the show, but it sounds interesting, and definitely the type of story I'd prefer in book form rather than watching.

  6. I wasn't expecting that much because both Hanna and Sarah had already mentioned that they didn't rate it.

    I know I'm over-harsh on books sometimes. I know it, I do. But this one I didn't even manage to finish. I think I felt that it was over-done, maybe. Like, he just wouldn't stop saying how he didn't feel things. At one point it was three times on two pages and I couldn't help but think he was feeling an awful lot about not feeling things!!!

    Ah well, I'm glad you liked it :)


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