Book 26 in Cannonball Read 2
In Jeff Lindsay’s fifth Dexter book - the story of a psychopath with an urge to kill that he uses only against other serial killers - the plot mirrors some of the developments of the TV series (unintentionally or not). Dexter’s wife, Rita, has an unplanned pregnancy, and the new baby influences Dexter’s life, changing his marriage from a convenient cover for his nighttime activities to a real family. This Dexter actually feels feelings, rather than faking human emotions for the benefit of his acquaintances and coworkers.
While Dexter is swearing off his moonlighting as a serial killer, a group of vampire wannabes is murdering young girls, and possibly eating them. Dexter is roped into helping his sister Deb investigate, and ends up playing a crucial part in solving the murders. This main storyline is suspenseful, but it lacks the punch of the TV show’s storylines dealing with a single, known nemesis who is very close to Dexter. The suspense comes from the reader having no idea who the villain is, rather than from a known villain slowly unraveling Dexter’s secret. It’s the difference between seeing only the crime scenes that Dexter is called to and building suspense from the escalation of crimes, and introducing the reader to Arthur Mitchell before Dexter even knows who he is and building suspense from the way Dexter works his way into Arthur’s life as ‘Kyle Butler’. The former makes for an entertaining page-turner, but the latter becomes a deeply suspenseful psychological tale where the risks feel real and imminent.
This is not to say that Lindsay’s books are not worth reading, or that there aren’t some deep flaws in the TV series. Lindsay just gets suspense from plot mechanics - often unmasking a minor character, or someone who was just introduced, as the killer.
Lindsay does a few things that bring Dexter is Delicious a step above other thrillers. Dexter’s narration is more than just effective - the alliteration in his descriptions of himself, using phrases such as ‘dashing dimpled Dexter’, shows Dexter’s interior wit firsthand, and if there is never a feeling of real danger, it is due to the narration’s lack of emotion even while in peril. Lindsay’s use of the Dark Passenger - an actual presence in Dexter that leaves at one point, as opposed to the murky metaphor of the TV series - continues to develop in interesting ways, such that it is almost a separate character rather than a part of Dexter’s psyche.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the novel is the way Lindsay brings back Brian, Dexter’s serial killer brother who appeared in book one. In the first book, Dexter found himself admiring Brian, intrigued by the crime scenes he left behind. In Dexter is Delicious, Dexter sees in Brian the aspects of himself he is trying to suppress. Lindsay uses Brian as a red herring, then a possible menace to Dexter’s family life, and then he pops up again near the end. Brian’s involvement with the resolution of the plot is no surprise to anyone paying any attention, but Dexter misses Brian’s unsubtle hints throughout the book. This is tied to the most troubling aspect of the book: a moral, non-killer Dexter is a stupid Dexter, who finds himself in danger with no clue how to get out, relying on Deb or Brian to rescue him. Is Dexter actually unable to take care of himself without the serial killer part of his brain turned on, or is he just rationalizing his enjoyment of a gruesome hobby? The reader is left only with Dexter’s self-serving, and possibly self-deluding, narration to puzzle out the inner workings of his psyche.