Those who have been loyally following the television show “Dexter” since its premiere on Showtime in 2006 may be surprised to learn that it is based on a fine series of novels by Jeff Lindsay. The fourth installment, DEXTER BY DESIGN, was published almost simultaneously to the start of the fourth season. If you have been watching the program and haven’t picked up one of the books yet, let me urge you in the strongest possible terms to purchase Lindsay’s latest, which is an excellent read and, in a very dark and dire sense, great fun as well.
Dexter Morgan, a blood splatter specialist with the Miami Police Department, is seriously damaged mentally and emotionally. He is a serial killer who exhibited all of the classic signs --- withdrawal, animal torture, fascination with violence --- at an early age. His stepfather, who was a Miami cop himself, saw Dexter’s base impulses (which Dexter refers to as his “Dark Passenger”) early on and knew that while he couldn’t exorcise them, he might be able to guide him in their application. As a result, Dexter manages to channel his urges and slake his thirst for bloodshed by murdering criminals --- those who he feels “deserve it.” He also is able to present a fairly normal face to the world at large to the point where he has actually managed to woo and marry his girlfriend Rita as part of his façade of normalcy.
As DEXTER BY DESIGN opens, the newly married couple is honeymooning in Paris where they view a performance art exhibition, which will soon have eerie repercussions in their lives. Rita’s two young children are “differently abled” in the same manner that Dexter is, and he takes it upon himself to raise them accordingly. As soon as the honeymoon is over and the new family returns to Miami, Dexter becomes involved in one of the most chilling cases of his career. Someone is leaving corpses painstakingly and artfully displayed in public areas of Miami. And seeing as such scenery does not do wonders for the tourist industry, there is a great deal of pressure from the top down in the Miami Police Department to solve the case quickly. Dexter’s thoroughly unpleasant sister, Deborah, who works with her brother as a detective, is assigned to the case, and the two find themselves teaming up. This puts them both in an extremely difficult situation given that Deborah is one of the very few people who knows what lies under the veneer that Dexter presents to the world.
Everything changes, however, when Deborah is violently attacked during the course of the investigation. Dexter witnesses the incident and feels free to let his Dark Passenger off its tether as Deborah lies near death in a Miami hospital. His actions bring a whole new level of violence to the picture, one that places his family in terrible danger. For now there is someone else who is aware of who and what Dexter is. Motivated by revenge, Dexter and a somewhat unlikely ally find themselves in the unfortunate position of being pursued by a madman who will not be content until he has murdered Dexter and everyone around him.
Lindsay continues to mix graphic descriptions and grim humor into a storyline in which the protagonist is not so much a fish out of water as a dry land piranha on a mission. Dexter remains a sympathetic, if twisted character whose balancing act between dark impulse and normalcy continues to be challenged. If the closing of DEXTER BY DESIGN is any indication, his greatest challenges are yet to come. Recommended (and not just because of the great cover).
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 29, 2010