“I’m quite sure most people fake an awful lot of everyday human contact. I just fake all of it. I fake it very well, and the feelings are never there. But I like kids. . . . kids are special.”
Dexter Morgan is your friendly neighborhood sociopath with two differences, he kills only bad people that the law can’t touch and he genuinely likes children. He also don’t mind helping the police catch serial killers.
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DARKLY DREAMING DEXTER
by Jeff Lindsay
The Dexter Series #1
Horror Fiction, Thriller.
Forensic Scientists, Fiction, Serial Murderers, Serial Murders, Miami, Florida, Vigilantes, Psychological, Suspense,
Dexter Morgan, A blood-spatter specialist who moonlights as a serial killer.
Deborah Morgan, Miami vice cop who wants to be a homicide detective.
The Dark Passenger, The need Dexter has to kill — or is it something more?
Harry Morgan, Dexter’s foster father, a cop who formulated the Code of Harry.
Doris Morgan, Dexter’s foster mother.
Rita, Dexter’s girlfriend who is still recovering from a bad marriage to be intimate with anyone.
Dexter Morgan is a serial killer who only kills other murders — bad guys. This is part of The Code of Harry which he follows rigorously. He is also a blood pattern specialist for the Miami Dade Police Department but he doesn’t like blood. He has no human emotions although his foster sister Deborah Morgan is the one person he’d rather see live than die.
“But all I could think about was that neat stack of body parts. No blood. None at all.”
.Deborah calls Dexter in to a homicide case the fifth prostitute murdered by the Tamiami Killer. Since Dex had proven insightful about such monsters in the past and as Deb desperately wanted out of vice, she cajoles Dex into helping her solve it.
Normally Dexter willingly helps Deb out but this case is getting too interesting and . . . perhaps personal? The killer uses Dex’s basic method of body disposal, except the killer’s packages of body parts are bloodless — a fact that makes Dexter lightheaded. As the body count rises, Dexter begins to see a message in the tidy little packages — a message just for him — one inviting him to leave the Code of Harry behind and come out to play.
However, as appealing as the invitation may be, Dexter is bothered by a new dreams . . . dreams that seem to following the actions of the mysterious killer as he kills another prostitute . . . dreams that startle Dex awake only to find he’s been sleep walking . . . dreams that bring on an unexpected awakening of the Dark Passenger, forcing him to kill too early and without proper preparation . . . dreams that make Dexter wonder if he’s the Tamiami Killer.
Darkly Dreaming Dexter is a crime novel with a mystery thrown in and a character study of a sociopath who bends his dark obsessions to killing bad people instead of innocent people. Lindsay walks a difficult line here because as Dex is the narrator and the protagonist, the reader needs to like him — if not identify with him — in order to enjoy the story. Yet by the very definition of sociopath, Dex has no human emotions — he just fakes being human.
“If only I was capable of love, how I would have loved Harry.”
Lindsay solves the problem with humor, acerbic wit, a sense of charm (even if it is just an act) and the Code of Harry which gains our sympathy. After all, he is killing the bad people. I think of it like the Spock phenomenon — millions of women loved Spock even though he is an emotionless, logic driven alien — yet he’s humanized by the humor (usually he fellow shipmates at his expense) and his duty to Starfleet.
Darkly Dreaming Dexter is told in first person past tense from Dexter’s point of view — Dexter narrates, much like a private investigator novel. Lindsay lets you in to the mind of his character and constantly reminds you that he is not human — but a monster in human disguise. Dexter is very open and honest about this throughout the story. He talks about the things he does to “fake” being human, including dating an emotionally and psychologically damaged woman named Rita. However, it is her children that he cares about — not her. He hopes they do not turn out like him.
Part of the book’s horror is that Lindsay does such a good job of making us like him and yet not denying his monstrousness. When I identify with the monster — and realize that I’m identifying with it — I feel a sense of creepy vertigo. Not as rich as the outright scare but it is fun in its own right.
There is a slight supernatural element to this story in that Dexter dreams about the other killer. He seems to see what the killer is doing as if remote dreaming. It could even be tied to the Dark Passenger — although in Dexter’s logical world there is not much room for the supernatural or paranormal. It will be interesting to see if Lindsay develops this further.
Showtime has made a television series called Dexter. The first season loosely followed Darkly Dreaming Dexter and the following two seasons took off with their stories growing out of the first season. Although this seems to be the same serial killer we all know and love, his life goes in different — yet interesting — directions from the novel series.
To view the entire Dexter series in book and on DVD, check out “Dreaming of Dexter” on The Lair of the Undead Rat.
I want to suggest some of the crime novels I’ve been reading lately like The Fever Kill by Tom Piccirilli or Ed Brubaker’s graphic novel series Criminal Vol. 1: Coward. However, Dexter is too light and humorous for those stories.
For a lighter look at the career criminal, look for Lawrence Block’s Bernie Rhodenbarr series: start with the first book Burglars Can’t Be Choosers. Are there any others? I can’t help thinking that there are more books like Darkly Dreaming Dexter and I’m just not thinking of them. Can you think of any? Please mention them in comments.