The Dexter Books, by Jeff Lindsay (Part 1)

PowerSawYou may remember from my post comparing the Dexter TV series to the books that inspired them, but this really bears repeating: they are completely different animals. Unlike, say Game of Thrones, where each season is adapted from a book in George R.R. Martin’s books, the producers of TV’s Dexter began making radical departures from their source material halfway through the first season. So if you’re looking for an extension of the books in the TV show (or vice versa), you are going to be sorely disappointed. Basically, after the first season the only thing they have in common is the premise that there is a serial killer who only targets bad guys who escape the justice system and the identities of some of the characters. But even the characters don’t really match up all that well since the list of who is alive, who is dead, and who actually has much of a presence differs greatly.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you. We have a lot of material to get caught up on, so let’s get started. This installment will cover the first two books in Jeff Lindsay’s books: Darkly Dreaming Dexter and Dearly Devoted Dexter.

Darkly Dreaming DexterDarkly Dreaming Dexter (2004)

Meet Dexter Morgan. He loves food, lives in Miami, and works as a blood spatter analyst for the Homicide Division of the Miami Police Department. He also moonlights as a serial killer. But he is not your average bloodthirsty menace to society. Oh no. This intrepid killer happens to have been adopted by a noble policeman as a young child. A policeman named Harry who recognized his son’s violent tendencies and, instead of condemning him, decided to train him to control those homicidal urges. Instead of going on a bloody rampage, Harry schemes to sate Dexter’s so-called “Dark Passenger” that occasionally demands bloody satisfaction by teaching him to carefully vet a pool of victims who, it could be argued, the world would be a better place without. Scum who, for one reason or another, have slipped through the cracks in the justice system. In honor of his adopted father, Dexter calls it the Harry Code, and he takes it very seriously.

Harry also taught his son the art of camouflage, and Dexter proved to be an excellent student. His daily life has become an artfully arranged facade designed to fool the world into thinking he’s just your average Joe, or at least trick you into looking the other way. His work for the Police Department is central to this. It gives him a powerful cover, access to a wide variety of forensic knowledge (and tools) that will help him cover his tracks, and as an added bonus any of his DNA that shows up at a crime scene will be ruled out because of his presence as an agent of the law. To complete the image of normalcy, Dexter even landed himself a family front in the form of hisgirlfriend Rita, who has two kids from a previous marriage and is thoroughly blind to his secret hobby.

Just like in the TV show, Dexter’s first adventure introduces us to our antihero by having him face down a savage serial killer who is leaving a steady stream of dead prostitutes in his wake (here he is known as the Tamiami Slasher, on TV he became the Ice Truck Killer). Dexter first gets involved because his sister, Deborah (Harry’s biological child) desperately wants to transfer from Vice to Homicide and she plans to use Dexter’s curiously accurate “hunches” (tidbits of info gleaned from his Dark Passenger) to solve the case and get promoted. As he gets closer, Dexter begins to admire the killer’s handiwork and recognizes some of his own methods.

Things start to slide out of control when it becomes clear that the killer has noticed Dexter, too. And he seems to know all about him. And he’s moving closer. Before he knows it, Dexter is caught up in a deadly situation that will find him choosing where his loyalties lie.

This first venture into Dexter’s world is also the best in the series. Jeff Lindsay shows off some truly twisted creativity as well as a razor-sharp wit. This darkly comic thriller will definitely amuse you at the same time it makes you squirm with discomfort. And once you’ve turned the final page, you would be hard pressed not to immediately reach for the next installment.

Grade: A

Dearly Devoted DexterDearly Devoted Dexter (2005)

Warning: spoilers if you haven’t read the first book yet

Dexter’s once-tidy world has gotten pretty shaken up. His brother Brian, the Tamiami slasher, had sought to create a partnership with him and now has vanished–perhaps forever–to evade capture from the police. The Department is still reeling from the death of Laguerta. Dexter’s sister Deborah knows his deadly secret now and is avoiding him. And to make it all worse, Dexter’s nemesis on the police force, Sergeant Doakes, has gotten even more suspicious of him than ever, going so far as to tail Dexter everywhere he goes.

Understandably, with all that raging around him, Dexter is lying low these days. He’s trying to be the attentive boyfriend and father figure he usually only pretends to be. But as you can probably imagine, life under a microscope doesn’t suit our Dexter very well, and his Dark Passenger is getting more and more restless. The likelihood that Dexter will snap under the pressure is increasing every day.

So for Dexter it’s something of a blessing when a series of bizarre mutilations pops up in Miami. Someone has been surgically torturing men into grotesque forms and leaving them alive to ruin their psyches as well as their bodies. And this someone seems to have a connection to Doakes’ military past, as well as Deborah’s new boyfriend, detective Kyle Chutsky.

Dexter’s loyalties are tested once again when Deborah needs him to help her find the killer to keep Chutsky safe, even if it means saving Doakes in the process. And even if it means inserting himself into an incredibly dangerous situation with a desperately unhinged man who will do anything for revenge.

Once again, Lindsay’s macabre imagination and twisted sense of humor make this thriller a true page-turner. The reader is caught between admiration of his creativity and horror at what he uses it to come up with.

Grade: A-

For more Dexter, check out my TV series vs Book series post and Part 2 of my series rundown.


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