Sable's Reviews > Darkly Dreaming Dexter

Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay
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it was amazing

Read for the Vernon Library Summer Reading Challenge.

So I needed a mystery book to read for the summer reading challenge I'm doing. I don't know a thing about mysteries; the last time I read any, someone gave me a bunch of Henning Mankell mysteries to read while my husband was in the hospital on a long convalescence following a major car accident. That was almost a decade ago now. Before that I had long ago satisfied any desire to see anything through the eyes of a serial killer thanks to Michael Slade, and prior to that I'd been twelve, and had graduated to Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle from Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys.

But one of my co-workers, a lovely young woman who reminds me very much of myself twenty years younger except she's probably a nicer person than I am, recommended them to me. She's a bit obsessed, actually. It probably should be a little alarming, but she's simply such a sweetheart that you can't help but be put at ease.

So the character of Dexter is exactly like that. The book's back gives you the scenario; a sociopathic serial killer works for the Miami police department as a blood splatter specialist, and he uses his intimate understanding of the mind of a killer to stop criminals. The catch, the factor that makes it possible for us to like and even love him, is that he only kills other serial killers. He lives by what he calls "the Code of Harry." Harry was his foster father and a cop, who recognized the early symptoms of the budding sociopathic killer in his young charge, and taught him to channel the urges into killing those who were like him; those who "deserved it." You get the distinct impression that Harry was a wise man whose long work in law enforcement had exposed the darker side of human nature to him, and that he didn't really believe anybody was perfect, and that in fact most people were hiding some pretty dark secrets, so being a serial killer did not make his foster son any more or less evil than anyone else.

That tone remains throughout the book. I think most people who have read these books do not realize how spot-on Lindsay's research into the mind of a sociopath is. Dexter is perfectly aware of the monster that he is. Refreshingly he is not much given to self-loathing or even intellectual remorse, but accepts himself as he is, and I expect that Harry had much to do with that and look forward to learning more in later books. Dexter is aware that he does not have the same feelings that others do, but like most sociopaths he has made a careful study of the emotions of other people and therefore understands how to manipulate them (and often does). He is also, therefore, capable of looking at people with fully open eyes, and thus seeing the hidden motivations that we refuse to admit that we have. Since the book is told from his point of view, there is a lot of really hilarious snark about human nature and people basically being the monkeys we are. Adding to the sense of realism in the book, he seems to have genuine affection (or at least loyalty) to his foster sister Deborah, whose main method of expressing her affection for her foster brother usually involves both physical and verbal abuse (I suppose I should clarify that this is the usual brotherly-sisterly teasing and punches in the arm, nothing truly "abusive").

Life is going along just fine for Dexter when we meet him; he's been working for the police department for a couple of years, and his sister is a cop who is trying to get out of Vice and into Homicide. He has cultivated a girlfriend, carefully chosen for her lack of interest in sex, and has endeared himself to her two children. This, of course, is a disguise for his monthly murder, and Lindsay spares no time in introducing us to that, since the book opens with Dexter murdering a murderous child-molesting priest. Then a series of murders start happening that have strangely familiar subtext, and Dexter and the killer end up engaged in a lethal game of cat-and-mouse. I think I'll leave off the plot at this point because I don't want to ruin it for you.

Unlike, apparently, everybody else in the world, I have never seen the TV show, and until I read the books I don't care to. I am aware of them because my mother-in-law is a huge fan of them, but I don't own a TV and I wasn't interested at the time. So I'm judging the book solely on its own merit, for better or worse.

I love Lindsay's writing. He reminds me of Heinlein; an easy read with excellent characterization and a lot of hidden depth. I chewed through this book fairly quickly and liked it enough that I immediately went out and bought the rest of the ones that were available at the secondhand bookstore where I work.

It's hard to imagine liking a serial killer, but I do. I like Dexter. I like his sense of humour and his twisted sense of honour. Technically Batman is a sociopathic serial killer too (at least in his Dark Knight aspect) and most people like him too, so perhaps it's not that unusual. Dexter delivers a satisfying kind of dark justice and he thinks the things we all want to say. Also, the play on words is a good one and I wonder if it was intentional? "Dexter" instead of "Sinister." Clever.

Anyway, like I said, I loved it enough to seek out the rest of the books, and I look forward to exploring them more thoroughly. If you like a smart, funny, darkly humorous sort of light read and your stomach is strong, this is an outstanding book that I would highly recommend. Thanks very much to Kayla for pointing me at it!
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Reading Progress

August 13, 2016 – Started Reading
August 15, 2016 – Finished Reading
August 17, 2016 – Shelved

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