Saturday, October 18, 2008

Review: Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay


I was all set to review a 'not available at amazon.com' indie title when I went looking for the link on Fictionwise only to find it no longer for sale! The one peril of e, I suppose: you snooze, you lose! So you're getting this review instead, of a very commercial book available far and wide at bricks-and-mortar book stores everywhere. Still, there IS a lesson in this purchase for those interested in the politics of e-reading and what motivates buyer decisions. This is a bit above the price range I normally prefer for e-books, but I was hearing buzz, feeling interested, and there was a sale so they snagged me on the instant gratification impulse buy!

I should mention as well that there is a TV show associated with this book series. My understanding is that the books came first, and among fans of the actual story, there are the inevitable factions of 'those who prefer the books' and 'those who prefer the television.' A message board friend of mine who has experience with both said that the show is making some interesting choices with the storyline of which she approves, and that the format of a weekly tv show offers scope for a different kind of story-telling. I'm sure this is true. I rented the first disk of season 1 after I finished the book, and didn't care for it much. I guess I already had pictures of the characters in my head, and not all of the ones on-screen were the way I imagined them. I thought one character in particular came off much stupider on tv, and I think, as far as this story goes, I'll be in the 'prefer the books' camp.

The story revolves around Dexter Morgan, a blood spatter analyst for the Miami police department. He is extremely up-front with the reader that he is a sociopath and that, while he is skilled at pretending to care, he doesn't actually. He became skilled, in fact, because his foster father (himself a cop) recognized Dexter for what he was and taught him to channel his predilection for violence thusly: to remember, whenever he feels certain urges, that there are plenty of people out there who actually deserve to die.

Dexter's well-organized life is upturned when a serial killer turns up who has remarkably similar methods to those of our sociopathic 'hero.' Further complicating the pursuit is his foster sister Deborah---the only person who 'loves' Dexter. She's a low-level cop trying to win her way into a posting to homicide, and sees this case as her maybe big break. She asks Dexter to help her, and he must juggle his desire to stay on the fringes with the problem of what to do about Deborah because, while he claims he does not 'love' her, he would not like anything bad to happen to her either!

I was surprised at how winsome a character Dexter turned out to be. His attempts to justify his badassness when actual emotion came his way (for example, his 'methinks the man doth protest too much' circumlocutions about his feelings for Deborah) were amusing. And Lindsay is skilled at making you care for him. The flashback scene where his foster father first introduces the 'code of Harry' by which he lives his life was downright chilling. And I thought the central conceit---he can't help what he is, so if he must kill anyway, to only kill bad guys---was extremely clever. It's rare to find an original idea in genre fiction these days!

This was an extremely entertaining book and Dexter's 'voice' as a narrator was both witty and consistent. The supporting characters were all equally well turned out, and I am definitely curious to see what happens in Book 2! I am definitely planning to stay on the lookout for further work by this author! If you are a mystery fan, this is a great read.

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