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I had heard of the TV show Dexter although I have never seen it. I became aware through reading reviews that this show was based upon a series of novels by author Jeff Lindsay, and when I came across him in the library I decided to check out the work and see if it was my sort of thing. I am normally a big fan of crime based fiction, so I mostly read books in this genre.
I find Dexter a bit of a strange character. He lives in Miami, and works for the Police Department as a blood analyist. He works closely with his sister Deborah who is a police Sargeant. Dexter is highly skilled at his job, although he keeps a very close secret. He has a little nightime 'hobby' of being a serial killer. He has a code of ethics though and has been brought up by his adoptive father Harry to only go after the bad guys. This makes it easy for him to find 'victims' because he has access to police information.
To complicate matters further, his sister, the cop, also has become aware of his little sideline, and she is left in a dilemna as to what she should do about it.
This is not the first novel in the series, so reading this as a first example of Lindsay's work is a hard one. While I felt that I had not really missed out a lot by not reading the previous novels as the characterisation is good and there is plenty of explanation of how we got to here in the story, I did find Dexter a very difficult character to like. He describes himself as having a Dark Passenger who is the bit of him that causes him to do the killing, but the way Dexter and the Dark Passenger are described is like seeing two people. Not quite schizophrenic as there is awareness of both characters and they kind of speak to each other, but it is an odd unusual viewpoint in written format.
Dexter is a person who is very unhuman. While he has the motions of being a normal person as he has a job and a family through marriage, he is also describing himself as devoid of emotion, watching things very detached and reacting how he thinks that he should be responding. He is often also quite sarcastic in his inner voice. As a style of writing, this took me a long time into the novel to get used to.
At the same time, the story has gruesome murders like you see in other novels, but it is not quite as strong on the forensic side as other authors like Kathy Reichs, so you need to rely more on the emotional side of it, but it is being told by someone who doesn't really register emotion.
The plot is quite surreal. There are some very strange bodies found in public locations in Miami. While investigating this Dexter witnesses an attack on his sister. This causes the Dark Passenger to want to settle the score. Only, he makes a couple of crucial mistakes, and this leads to him unleashing a nutter who is determined to make Dexter pay. Dexter is not as free as he would like to deal with this problem thanks to his new family commitments - he is just married, and has two step-kids he has to take care of so he is a bit out of sorts at not being able to act in his normal manner to sort out this problem. The result is a fairly interesting story that is not at all predictable.
While I can appreciate how well written this is, I would say that this is not a series I can enthuse about. It has its own merits in that it is an original plot idea, and it obviously transfers well to the TV show as it is popular and has run for several seasons. I did feel the awkward and almost autistic character of Dexter was hard to take in written format. I think the writer has skillfully written in quite a detached way on purpose, but I didn't take to it as much as other authors I have read.
By the end of the novel, I did begin to warm more to the style and characters as the plot began to draw together to its conclusion. I have also started reading the next novel in the series, so I wasn't completely put off by the style, I just found it hard work getting into it to appreciate it.
I think my problem is that crime novels fit neatly into categories. Those that are really scientific with high levels of detail of the autopsies and crime scenes. This type of book is my favourite. Then there are those that are less gorey but the plot is pacey and exciting till you work out who dunnit. Here you know from early on who did it, only you are not quite sure on the why. There is a token amount of gore, but nowhere near enough to satisfy my blood thirst and geekiness. The pace just doesn't seem to be quite right and I felt like I spent too much time in Dexter's head. I think this is unlike any work I've read before, and I am not sure whether to recommend it or not. I certainly did not feel like I had wasted time reading it, but I didn't feel thrilled or as entertained as I normally do by the genre.
I think I am going to follow this up by watching the TV series to see if I get it more then. Until then, I am not sure why it is so popular.
Dexter by Design is the fourth book by author Jeff Lindsay to feature the character Dexter Morgan. The previous books in the series are:-
+ Darkly Dreaming Dexter
+ Dearly Devoted Dexter
+ Dexter In The Dark
Even though each book is a self contained story in its own right some elements concerning Dexter's relationship with Rita and the people he works with at the police department develop and change over the course of the four books. It's therefore best to read them in order as information given in one novel sometimes refers to prior events in the previous books.
I should also mention that the books and the TV series Dexter are almost entirely separate series. The first series of the TV show was based on the first book, "Darkly Dreaming Dexter" but subsequent series have been the work of the show's production team. So, if you've watched the TV show and have enjoyed the characters of Lila (Jaime Murray) and Agent Lundy (Keith Carradine) both season two, or Miguel Prado (Jimmy Smits) in season three don't expect to find them in Lindsay's novels because they're not his creations.
Likewise you'll find characters alive and well in the TV show that have been killed off in the books and characters that are dead in the TV show but are still alive in the novels.
Jeff Lindsay is the pen name of Jeffry Freundlich. The blurb about him inside the books state that he is a karate champion and plays with a band. He lives in Florida (Dexter is set in Miami) with his wife and family.
Newly married to girlfriend Rita and now step-father to Astor and Cody, Dexter's cover is complete. Who would suspect a devoted family man of being a serial killer?
Returning to Miami after his honeymoon Dexter finds a new type of killer on the loose. This one isn't your standard slash and cut merchant. No, this one is an "artiste", arranging a growing number of corpses in artistic poses. The first victim for example is dressed in shorts, t-shirt, filp-flops and is holding a camera. But, he's also had his head removed and replaced with a bunch of tropical flowers!
Who would want to do this and why?
As Dexter's sister Deborah starts to investigate the mounting number of corpses both she and Dexter make decisions that have far reaching repercussions and leave Dexter facing both a threat to his new family and public exposure in the worst possible way.......
After the frankly disappointing third book in the series, Dexter In The Dark, this fourth novel is a return of sorts to the style of story that was used in the first two books in the series.
As usual, the story is told in the first person and we therefore see events unfold from Dexter's perspective. There's less killing this time around on Dexter's part, mainly because the main thrust of the narrative deals with the growing number of corpses that appear, artistically arranged, at various places around Miami. None of the descriptions of the corpses or the way that they've met their deaths are particularly that graphic so this novel shouldn't have any potential readers feeling slightly queasy.
Plotwise, the novel pokes a fair amount of fun at the world of Art. From an exhibition piece called "Jennifer's Leg" which Dexter and Rita see on honeymoon in Paris, to the arty corpses that crop up in Miami to the finale at the Convention Centre there are a number of cheeky references to the art world. Watch out especially for Doctor Elaine Donazetti at the end of the story who does something that rings very true for an art figure!
So, is the book any good?
Well, yes and no.
Throughout the book Dexter finds himself on the back foot, fighting to prevent his "little hobby" being exposed to the general public. This plot element works well and the killers makes use of the internet which, of course, has been something that Dexter has used in the previous books to aid him in selecting and tracking his victims. However, you do have to ask how many times Lindsay can have his hero on the verge of being exposed without the reader finding it repetitive.
Astor and Cody also features slightly more in this book than the previous ones and have a bit more to do than they usually do. It's through the threat to his new family, Rita and the kids, that we begin to see that Dexter is starting to change. He's no longer the cold, emotionless man that we met in the first book. He's now starting to have an emotional reaction when he realises that there's a possibility that the killer might target Rita and the kids.
On the downside, Deb's absent from the action for much of the time and there's a trip to Cuba with her boyfriend, Kyle Chutsky, which is fairly dull and doesn't really do anything to drive the narrative forward. The reason for the killings also seems rather weak and forced.
Overall, it's a big improvement on the rather crap third novel and whilst some of the digs at the art world may amuse the plot as a whole leaves the reader feeling slightly unsatisfied. Deb's absence was, I feel, a mistake, as was the trip to Cuba. It should keep some Dexter fans happy but, if you're reading it as the first book in the series it's unlikely to want to make you read any of the others.
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Orion (20 Aug 2009)
At the time of writing this book is available from Amazon for £3.90.