Friday 17 January 2014

REVIEW: 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 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 distinctly 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).  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!