I can imagine --- well, wait a minute, I can't imagine --- what it
must have been like for Jason Kaufman, executive editor at
Doubleday, when he sat down and read the manuscript of DARKLY
DREAMING DEXTER, the debut novel of Jeff Lindsay. While ostensibly
a thriller, it treads boldly and steadily into heretofore uncharted
territory, taking an unusual protagonist and turning him into an
unlikely hero, a kind of Robin Hood of serial murderers. Whatever
he thought, he ultimately decided to publish this darkly comedic
work, to the benefit of the reading public.
The Dexter of the title is Dexter Morgan, a blood-splatter analyst
for the Miami police. That is his day job, anyway. But by night ---
not every night, just when The Need calls him --- Dexter is a
serial killer. He isn't culling the herd, however; he's protecting
it. Dexter's victims are child molesters and murderers who have
escaped justice because they are off of justice's radar. Dexter, in
turn, takes them off the board. Dexter likes children --- likes
them, nothing more than that --- and though he is asocial, people
tend to like him. Except for women. Women love Dexter. He is
a magnet for…well, let's just say that women practically
throw themselves at Dexter. He's not interested, but it helps him
to blend in if he pretends he is.
It's hard not to like Dexter. You won't confuse him with Hannibal
Lecter, or with Patricia Highsmith's Ripley, who was so good at
killing people when they got in his way. No. Dexter is actually
charming, and he is good at both his day and night jobs. A great
deal of the reason for this is that Harry, Dexter's foster father,
was a policeman. Harry recognized Dexter for who and what he was,
and channeled him down the path of righteousness. Dexter, in other
words, is on our side.
And once you get to know him, it's easy to understand why he
becomes upset when a second serial killer suddenly appears in
Miami. The new killer has a theatrical flair that is so similar to
Dexter's own that he is at first intrigued, then frightened. The
new killer seems to be sending Dexter a message, as if he knows
who, and what, Dexter really is. The fact that Deborah Gordon,
Dexter's foster sister, is also a Miami cop and is assigned to
investigate the new murders only complicates matters. As the
murders continue, however, Dexter slowly comes to the disquieting
conclusion that he may well know who the killer is --- and his
identity may be no further away than Dexter's mirror.
Aficionados of the thriller genre, and particularly the sub-genre
dealing with serial murders, will find this well-written debut a
refreshing change of pace from the usual pattern such stories take.
Lindsay has a deft literary touch and his dark humor infuses DARKLY
DREAMING DEXTER from beginning to end. This is a work that will
have people reading, and talking, for some time to come.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 29, 2010