Jeff Lindsay stole my idea! Well, he didn’t, really, but I’m amused that the central plot of his most recent book, Dexter in the Dark, is stunningly similar to a short story that’s been sitting on my computer half finished for years. I’ve really got to start finishing my stories, though I’m not sure I could do it with quite the charm that Lindsay does. Okay, enough personal musing:
Dexter in the Dark is the latest book in the highly successful series chronicling the exploits of Dexter Morgan, Miami crime scene investigator and serial killer. The book series has inspired the Showtime television series Dexter, which has drawn rave reviews. I first started reading the series the same way many people did: by picking up the book at the airport. After that, I was hooked. I gobbled up Darkly Dreaming Dexter and Dearly Devoted Dexter and eagerly awaited more.
Curiously, though, Dexter in the Dark takes a bit of a departure from the previous books: it introduces what can only be called a supernatural element to the storyline, as is clear from the very first chapter.
Dexter himself is a fascinating character. He is a ‘heroic’ serial killer of the sort that people wanted to see in Hannibal Lecter: Dexter only hunts down and kills other serial killers. This virtue was inspired in him by his adoptive father Harry, who recognized his killing streak at an early age and focused it towards the most positive ends possible. Dexter himself doesn’t see things in terms of right or wrong, as he has little emotion of his own to speak of. In fact, much of what makes Dexter compelling is his efforts to project as much an appearance of normalcy as possible, not to mention his wry sense of humor. Ironically, he works as a blood spatter expert for the Miami police department, where he helps his sister Deborah, a police sergeant, solve cases using the insight gained by his ‘dark passenger’.
At the beginning of Dexter in the Dark, Dexter’s hobby draws the attention of a sinister, ancient power. This power sends him a message, in the form of a pair of horribly burned bodies, their heads replaced with ceramic heads of bulls. This message sends Dexter’s ‘dark passenger’ into hiding, which is surprising for both Dexter and the reader, as both have implicitly assumed that the passenger is only a metaphorical creation. What follows is a curious game of cat and mouse, as Dexter attempts to understand the nature of his former ‘passenger’ and solve the murders, all while being stalked himself by a different sort of hunter. On top of this, he’s got to plan for his wedding.
Lindsay was taking a big risk by introducing a supernatural element into his Dexter series. The series has been highly successful as ‘straight’ crime/thrillers: changing the tone risked losing a lot of the fan base. In fact, when I first bought the book months ago, I put it down after reading the first chapter. Looking back, I was subconsciously concerned that Lindsay had ‘jumped the shark’ with Dexter.
I’m happy to say that this is not the case. The supernatural aspects of the story are subtle and passive (no girls floating above their beds with their heads spinning around), and one can ignore those aspects entirely and treat the story as a straight crime tale, if desired. The most important joys of the Dexter stories remain unchanged: his struggles to present a false front of humanity to his fiancée and his coworkers. Furthermore, the book leaves open the possibility of continuing the Dexter saga.
I’m happy to say that Dexter in the Dark is a fun, fascinating continuation of the Dexter series by Lindsay, and I’m looking forward to seeing more by the author!