Books 20-23 in Cannonball Read 2
Jeff Lindsey’s series of books, the basis of the TV series Dexter, is a story of Dexter Morgan, a forensics analyst with the Miami PD who moonlights as a killer. Dexter’s dad, Harry, recognized Dexter’s inherent psychopathyat a young age, and trained Dexter to become a killer of bad guys - other people like Dexter, who had killed before and would kill again. Thus was born a serial killer who only killed other serial killers.
One of the most interesting aspects of Dexter the TV series is the parallels drawn between Dexter and superheroes (this parallel is dealt with explicitly in the season 2 episode ‘The Dark Defender’). After all, aren’t most superhero stories just about ineffective Dexters? They can’t finish off the kill, it’s against their code, so the villain falls off a cliff, or is felled by their own weaponry, or is killed by a subordinate - but never the hero. The hero never stains their hands like Dexter, never goes in planning on the kill that Dexter plans for, executes with surgical precision (most of the time) and loves.
This aspect of Dexter’s character may not be present in the books, but there is plenty to enjoy, and a lot of complexity for books that read as page turners. Lindsay deserves credit for writing stories that are completely urgent, crying out for a few hours to know what happens, while maintaining careful development of his main character and his inner life. The other characters, sometimes richly observed and portrayed in the series, are reduced to a few characteristic. This is not necessarily a criticism; the books are more about putting the reader in Dexter’s mindset than the series, so people are not complicated human beings, but large, walking pieces of meat that Dexter struggles to understand but with which he can never empathize.
Two important elements throughout the books that do not find themselves onto the TV show are constant alliteration - the titles are only the beginning - and the conception of Dexter’s ‘dark passenger’ not as a metaphor for his desire to kill, but as an actual metaphysical presence that lives in him, responds to his situation, and even flees the scene when it is scared. When Dexter looks at another psychopath - which, in the books, includes Doakes, Cody, Astor, and almost every person he kills - his dark passenger sees their dark passenger, and they square off, trying to intimidate each other and knowing that they are attached to kindred spirits.
The first of Lindsay’s series, Darkly Dreaming Dexter, introduces Dexter and his world, and, with a few changes and many additions, formed the first season of the series. This book is solid writing, introducing Dexter, Dexter’s problems fitting into society, and the Ice Truck Killer in about 200 pages, with a great deal of suspense, but little complications.
Dearly Devoted Dexter is still a lean book, and the suspense is thick, but it complicates some existing characters, and introduces new ones. This book is also considerably more gruesome than anything in any of the rest of the books, or the TV series. The second season of the series almost entirely departs from the books, but it borrows certain small elements - an everglades cabin off the water, the lingering suspicion of Seargeant Doakes - and uses them in entirely different ways. The ending feels like a deus ex machina, but not because the ending makes no sense or comes out of nowhere; it is perfectly reasonable with the plot that has gone before, but it just feels a little too perfect for our good old Dexter.
Dexter in the Dark gets a lot more interesting in terms of plot and villain; Dexter does not know his nemesis for most of the book, and it also introduces the idea of how ‘the dark passenger’ came to be and exactly what it is. The books also get interesting in a way never introduced in the TV series, as Cody and Astor, the kids of Rita, Dexter’s girlfriend, show that they recognize a similarity in Dexter - an urge and enjoyment of causing pain - and want him to teach them. Dexter in the Dark also brings the first time that the dark passenger leaves, introducing the idea of being just a regular guy, with no dark urges.
Dexter by Design introduces a killer that wants to frame Dexter to create a performance art piece. Although the subplots of the book (Ator & Cody’s psychopathy, Dexter’s struggle to appear normal for Rita and the police department) remain interesting, the main plot is not nearly as much of a page-turner as the previous books.
Of the four books, I would rate Darkly Dreaming Dexter slightly above Dexter in the Dark, mostly for its simplicity; then Dearly Devoted close behind, and then Dexter by Design behind with a lag. The series as a whole is worth reading, and I cannot emphasize enough the skill with which Lindsay draws the reader in and makes you want to read more (i.e. creates a page turner). They beg, almost demand, to be read in a single evening or two, and you will not be able to get your mind off them or fail to wonder where the story is going any time you put the books aside.