Jeff Lindsay Darkly Dreaming Dexter Reviewed by Terry D'Auray

Agony Column Home
Agony Column Review Archive

Darkly Dreaming Dexter

Jeff Lindsay

Doubleday/Random House

US Hardcover First

ISBN: 0-385-51123-X

288 Pages; $22.95

Publication Date: August, 2004

Date Reviewed: October 29, 2004

Reviewed by: Terry D'Auray © 2004



Mystery, Horror, General Fiction

In writing 'Darkly Dreaming Dexter', his first novel, Jeff Lindsay has done readers two favors, both deeply appreciated. First, he's taken the overdone, bone-tired serial killer novel and turned it on its ear. And second, he's introduced us to the devilishly delicious, delightfully funny Dexter. 'Darkly Dreaming Dexter' is a serial killer novel written from the perspective of the killer himself. While many an author has taken us into the dark psychopathic mind of such folks, none has created a psychopath so unusual, so self-effacing and so entirely likable that it's all too easy to forget his true nature.

Dexter is a blood spatter analyst for the Miami Police Department by day, albeit one handicapped by a serious abhorrence of blood. In something of a twisted Clark Kent to Superman thing, Dexter becomes a serial killer by night, carefully stalking and prepping his prey prior to wielding his knife with deadly precision and finesse. But Dexter is a serial killer with standards - his victims are exclusively serial killers themselves, particularly those who prey on children.

At the request of his step-sister, a Miami cop, Dexter helps the police pursue a serial killer who has been attacking hookers in Miami. The killer, whose work is precise, clean and elegant - quite reminiscent of Dexter's own - beckons as a uniquely intriguing, long-awaited kindred spirit. Using his offbeat political and professional skills, guided by unsettling dreams and the teachings of his step father (told through flashbacks to his childhood), Dexter tracks and confronts both the killer and his own past.

Despite his unsavory avocation, Dexter is a uniquely absorbing first-person narrator. He describes himself as a person utterly without human feeling, a situation that forces him to play-act at normalcy and feign human emotions. He is a smart, self-deprecating ghoul capable of acute observations, running a continuously streamed interior dialogue that alternates between self exploration and self admonishment. With restrained flippancy and wry humor, Dexter allows us to look at ourselves through his eyes as an outsider. And however psychopathic that outsider may be, the view is both honest and perceptive and almost always hysterically funny. Dexter describes and manipulates police-politics with amusing sagacity; he describes sexual politics with even-more comical naiveté.

'Darkly Dreaming Dexter' is deftly written like a three-act play. Act I -- we meet Dexter and experience his demonic avocation in action with viscerally-described detail. We fall in love anyway. In Act II, Dexter's dark dreams and bizarre behavior lead him to question his sanity. It leads us to do the same. In Act III, Dexter pits his dark side against his light side in a uniquely twisted denouement. We're now uncertain exactly which side is which, and we're also uncertain exactly which side wins. Epilogue -- and the winner is?

While Lindsay's Dexter is a stellar character and his plotting tight and perfectly paced, it's his prose that truly elevates this book. He is uniquely skilled at combining words with wit and veracity. His writing is at once playful and provocative, atmospheric and amusing. Lindsay's language is grossly and delightfully alliterative. Those with more patience than I can count the multitude of d-d-d phrases that run throughout the book. (They begin with the title 'Darkly Dreaming Dexter', to darkly driving Dexter, to dog-dumb Dexter, to highlight but a mere few.) I chose simply to smile, to absorb the information from each and to laud the witty presentation. As playful and funny as 'Darkly Dreaming Dexter' is, it's also a perceptive narrative with a distinctly dark element. For a grandly original mix of serial-killer drama and laugh-out-loud hilarity, do yourself a favor and delve into Dexter.