Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay

Darkly Dreaming DexterI watched the Dexter TV series on Netflix a while back, and after discovering it was based on a book series, I sought out the books. I have three of them on my Kindle. I add books I want to my Amazon Wishlist and snag them when they drop in price, and the first three must have dropped below $3, or I wouldn’t have them. They have been on my to-read list for a while, anyway. I am just now getting around to reading one. I can’t tell you how good it feels to read something I want to read, for fun rather than for school. 

I enjoy these police-procedural books. You know the ones: a serial killer is on the loose and a cop or someone who works for the cops is trying to find out who is doing the killings and why. I think of James Patterson when I think of these books, and speaking of which, I should really read one of his books again soon. Anyway, I digress. Darkly Dreaming Dexter brings something unique to the table, but for better or worse, it is one of these books. For this book, it’s for worse. 

Plot Synopsis (Spoiler-Free)

Dexter Morgan is a serial killer. He was adopted after a Traumatic Event by Harry Morgan, a detective. Harry began to notice signs that Dexter was different, or rather, disturbed, at a young age, and rather than institutionalize him for killing animals, Harry molds and shapes Dexter, creating a methodical killer who rids the world of people who deserve it

Fast forward to present day. Harry is dead, and Dexter is killing people while abiding by Harry’s Code. Dexter is a blood-splatter analyst for the Miami Dade Police Department. A serial killer is killing prostitutes in Miami, and is tantalizing Dexter. Dexter begins to see the murders in his dreams. How is Dexter connected? Is he committing these murders himself in his sleep?

Review

Darkly Dreaming Dexter is not a bad book, but it’s not without its issues. I enjoyed it. I’m going to discuss some things I liked and then some things that irked me. Let’s start with the good.

Strengths

1. Characterization – I read the book after watching the show, so I already knew and had images in my head of these characters. Dexter, Deborah, Harry, LaGuerta, Angel Batista, and even Doakes are how they are depicted in the show. Harry comes off as a good, loving father and man despite raising a serial killer. Angel is extremely likable. LaGuerta is power- and press-hungry. Doakes is a pain in Dexter’s butt.

Dexter’s voice is impeccable. I could not help but read Dexter’s narration in the book as the actor narrates the TV show in my head. Deborah’s dialogue is also spot-on; when I watched the show, I was initially turned off by her potty mouth, but once I started to care about her, I realized it was just part of her character. The constant cussing in her dialogue is present in the book, too.  

The growth in both Dexter and Deborah was satisfying to read. I could see Dexter becoming more human and Deborah becoming more mature. Neither are flat characters.

The problem with reading the book after watching the show is I am not sure if the show is to credit for its great delivery, or if the source material is just that good. I enjoyed both, so I won’t split hairs.

2. Plot – The plot is paced really well. Everything introduced related to the plot somehow, and either added to my understanding of events, or pushed the plot along. Having two murderers, the Ice Truck Killer and well, Dexter, kept the book interesting. It seemed like a dead body kept turning up. I’m not saying dead bodies interest me, but hey, this is a book about a serial killer. 

I must admit that Dexter’s murders seemed kind of bland, but I think that is because I am used to them from the TV show. They would have been exciting, interesting, and new if I had not watched the show first. Brian’s victims, which I had not seen since Season One of the show, were much more interesting because they sent messages to Dexter. 

3. Diction – The book is really well written. I enjoyed Lindsay’s use of alliteration throughout the book, and there were several points in the book where I reread a paragraph to admire Lindsay’s craft. Here is one of my favorites:

What was sleep, after all, but the process by which we dumped our insanity into a dark subconscious pit and came out on the other side ready to eat cereal instead of the neighbor’s children?

Weaknesses

1. Dexter’s Dreams – Dexter’s dreams are a major part of this book; the book is called Darkly Dreaming Dexter, after all. Dexter’s dreams are his connection to the other killer, who turns out to be his forgotten, older brother, Brian. The dreams are interesting and at no point felt out of place while reading. However, when I reached the end of the novel, I felt kind of gipped by the dreams. Dexter happens upon the ice truck, upon bodies, and upon his sister, Deborah, and the killer, Brian, at the end of the book because of what he sees in his dreams. Intuition, even. He even just knows Deborah has been kidnapped before discovering she is because of his dreams, visions, and intuition. It feels cheap.

In the last 20% or so of the book, Lindsay plays with the idea that Dexter might be the one committing the Ice Truck Killer’s killings. Maybe Dexter was the one who kidnapped and tied up Deborah, too, in his sleep. That was exciting. That was interesting. That would have explained his dreams and intuition. 

What we got, however, is a brother Dexter had repressed from his memories. While interesting, it’s not explained well, or even at all. Are we supposed to believe Dexter and this long lost brother are connected mentally simply because they are brothers? Maybe, too, because they went through a traumatic experience together, but Dexter doesn’t even remember his brother until the end of the book, and, if they do have some psychic connection, it is not explained by Lindsay. We are just given Brian as if Lindsay is saying, enough said. No, that’s not enough for me.

Finally, Dexter works for the Miami Dade Police Department. I was a little frustrated with dreams giving Dexter and the reader answers about the plot rather than say, police work. The disappointment may be of my own making since I viewed this book as police procedural fiction, but really, how could I not?

2. Brian – Kind of piggybacking off of the first weakness I listed, I want to discuss the character Brian. Dexter’s brother is squeezed in the last couple of chapters of the book. The TV show interjected him into the story and had him date Deborah. I am fine with the book not doing that, but he kind of popped up out of nowhere, and so, as a reader, I didn’t get to know him. I was left feeling intrigued, but unsatisfied with his reveal.

The memories from his childhood that come to Dexter about being trapped with Brian for days, sitting in blood with bodies that had been cut with a chainsaw was grotesque and vivid, but confusing. Who murdered all those people? What happened to Brian and Dexter’s mother? Why were the boys left alive? This memory brought up so many questions, but none were answered in the book. Maybe they get answered in the book’s sequels. 

Final Thoughts

Darkly Dreaming Dexter was an enjoyable read despite its faults. As an introduction to a series, I think it’s strong. There was a lot to like, primarily the characters. As a stand-alone book, I think it leaves too many questions unanswered; my hope is that the sequels build on this book. I want to see Brian again. I want to learn more about what happened to Brian and Dexter as children. 

This is not a book I would read again, but I will read its sequels.

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