Title: Darkly Dreaming Dexter
Paperback: 275 pages
Publication Date: 27/07/2005
I’m probably slightly strange in this respect but I love a good literary anti-hero [so to speak – I prefer them not to be literally good!], so a character like Dexter Morgan is sweet manna to me. A sociopath who works for the Miami police as a blood spatter analyst, his true calling in life is serial killing – a task that he undertakes with unbridled relish. However, obviously realising that many readers might baulk at a central character who is a cold-blooded murderer, Lindsay has tried to make sure that Dexter doesn’t completely alienate the reader.
For example, he does not kill ‘innocent’ people [which would make him completely unacceptable to most readers], but instead focuses his urges on other murderers – thus obeying the Code of Harry [which was set down by his foster-father as a way of focussing Dexter’s needs]. In a strange kind of way I think that readers are more accepting of this as the reader can assuage their guilt by saying that it is just these criminals “getting what they deserve” – with Dexter thus a kind of avenging justice.
However, it is also Dexter’s ability to blend in and to appear charming that makes the reader more willing to accept his predilections. This is in stark contrast to another literary sociopath [and one of my favourite literary characters], Carol O’Connell’s detective Kathy Mallory. Mallory doesn’t understand social conventions, or even try to fit in, and I would argue that this, along with her amorality, makes her an incredibly difficult character for the reader to relate to. Thus, Dexter’s quirky nature and ability to put on a charming façade, allows the reader to convince themselves that they have something in common with him [which is vital for most readers].
Mallory and Dexter are both such strong characters that they tend to dominate the novels they appear in, which is certainly the case in the first novel in the Dexter series, Darkly Dreaming Dexter. Told from Dexter’s perspective in a first-person narrative, the plot revolves around a duel/game between Dexter and another serial killer who is plaguing Miami [and whose ability to drain his victims completely of blood leaves Dexter perplexed, fascinated and creepily in awe]. But this is a novel that focuses more upon Dexter and his travails as he tries to avoid detection and maintain his cover, than it does on the other serial killer and his crimes. He is constantly trying to juggle his relationship with girlfriend Rita, the demands of his foster-sister Deborah [a cop who wants his help to get into Homicide] and the unwanted attentions of Detective LaGuerta [whose incompetence hamstrings the investigation].
At times the prose becomes a little wordy and clotted, and at only 275 pages long [or short!] this is a very small and quick read by crime fiction standards. But its black, black humour [which reminded me of reading Chuck Pahlaniuk] and the strength of Dexter as a character make this a very unique kind of crime novel.