I love the alliteration of Jeff Lindsay’s Dexter book series’ titles. Darkly Dreaming Dexter. Dearly Devoted Dexter. Dexter in the Dark. Dexter by Design. They all have a nice ring to them, and are in keeping with Dexter Morgan’s cleverness and dry sense of humor. I also happen to love the books themselves, as well as the Showtime series based on them. I’m in the middle of Dexter season three, since I waited until it was released on dvd to watch it. So far I am enjoying it.
Sometimes it is hard to remember what happened in the books and what happened on the tv show, so I thought I’d take a moment to review each of the books, in preparation for the release of the fourth installment, Dexter by Design, which will be released in the U.S. next month. I will also give my spoiler-free assessment of the fourth novel, since I read it a couple of months ago. (My friend Lindsay picked up a copy of it for me while she was in England, where it was released earlier this year.)
Darkly Dreaming Dexter
- Plot – We meet Dexter for the first time, and learn that he is a blood splatter analyst by day and a serial killer by night. He maintains the illusion that he is normal through his job, his family ties to sister Deb, and his relationship with Rita and her kids. His carefully crafted world is threatened when another serial killer starts littering Miami with dead bodies and leaving clues for Dexter to join the game. Through Dexter’s investigation into this crime spree, we learn more about his past and see him deal with the inconveniences and complications of pretending to be normal.
- My Assessment – I’ve read plenty of serial killer/suspense novels, but none of them have stood out as much as the Dexter series. What makes it different is that the story is narrated not by the victim or investigator of the crimes, but by the criminal himself. Despite his proclivity to murder, we still like Dexter because he paints an amusing and honest portrait of life in Miami, giving a running commentary on the stranger aspects of human nature. It feels strange to be rooting for Dexter to successfully kill his next victim, but that’s exactly what happens, because in the world of Dexter, that’s what makes sense and provides closure. The first book had an excellent story arc, and was quite a page turner, with the surprising revelation of who the killer was, and the implications of that for Dexter. I also loved Sergeant Doakes as the villain who would be a hero in most books. Interestingly, I liked Doakes (and I think most people do). I respect Doakes for having the sense to recognize that there’s something not right about Dexter, while everyone else walks around completely clueless. Rita is a rather flat character in the book, while Deborah and Dexter’s sibling relationship is developed rather well.
Dearly Devoted Dexter
- Plot – The second book finds Dexter’s extracurricular activities at a standstill because of the increasingly watchful eye of Sergeant Doakes. Before long, though, they both find themselves drawn into a new criminal case. Deeply disturbed Dr. Danco has been exacting revenge against former army colleagues by kidnapping them, sedating them, and then mutilating them over a period of several days. Dexter finds himself caught in the middle of the investigation when it turns out that Deborah’s new boyfriend, Kyle Chutsky, as well as Doakes, are among Dr. Danco’s former colleagues, and are therefore in danger.
- My Assessment – The descriptions of Dr. Danco’s victims made me feel physically ill, particularly the first victim that was discovered with no eyelids, no limbs, and no tongue, but still alive, and making animal-like sounds. Yikes! It was also disturbing to read about characters we already knew going through similar torture. I wasn’t as enthralled by this book as the first one, but it was still entertaining.
Dexter in the Dark
- Plot – The third book in the series took a supernatural turn, as Dexter is left feeling inadequate when his Dark Passenger (the presence that controls his urges to kill) leaves him. He spends much of the book lamenting his abandonment, learning how to function without the Dark Passenger, and being stalked by a strange cult who sees him as a threat. There is also a murder investigation into some killings linked to the cult of Moloch, and Rita’s two children, Astor and Cody, start exhibiting signs that they share Dexter’s homicidal tendencies (presumably because of their abusive father).
- My Assessment –Dexter had talked about his Dark Passenger in the first two books, but in this installment the DP took center stage. I was not very thrilled with this turn of events. In addition, the murder investigation was confusing and full of holes, and I never quite figured out how everything was connected. Honestly, I didn’t enjoy this book much at all. I suppose you should still read it so as not to miss some of the details of character development, but on the other hand, I think you could easily jump from Dearly Devoted Dexter to Dexter by Design. I honestly don’t know what Jeff Lindsay was thinking, with all this Moloch and Dark Passenger mumbo jumbo. By taking things the supernatural route, he got away from what makes the series so refreshing and likable to begin with – its brutally honest, funny look at the silly things “normal” people do in their daily lives, and the lengths Dexter goes to to hide his true nature.
Dexter by Design
- Plot – At the beginning of the novel, Dexter and Rita are on their honeymoon in Paris. But it isn’t long before real life gets in the way of marital bliss, and Dexter finds his domestic and professional worlds thrown off balance once again. As in Darkly Dreaming Dexter, someone else seems to share Dexter’s views of the beauty and artistry of death. When Dexter tries to take the law into his own hands, he makes a costly mistake that sends his life spiraling out of control.
- My Assessment – I thoroughly enjoyed this book. There were a few plot holes, but I was willing to overlook them since overall the book was so entertaining. (I’m guessing that Jeff Lindsay writes these books so quickly that he doesn’t have time to iron out some of the details.) Since we now know Dexter very well, I found myself very emotionally invested in the ups and downs of his world. It was interesting to watch Dexter, who is normally so on top of things, face the consequences of his errors and have to be creative to set things right again. Over the course of the series, as the wall between his forced human persona and his sociopathic true nature has been slowly worn down, he has had a more difficult time maintaining control. It is intriguing and satisfying to see how Dexter’s domestic and relational ties change his decisions and actions. I find myself hoping he will become more human, but at the same time cheering for him to succeed by his old techniques. If you enjoyed the fast pace and clever narration of the first book, and the gory descriptions of the second book, then you will find much entertainment in this latest installment. And the ending leaves the door open for a fifth book. I’ll be ready and waiting to read it when the time comes.
I just looked it up and confirmed that there is a fifth book in the works, entitled Dexter is Delicious. This novel will take Dexter into the world of cannibalism. Sounds tasty! 😉
Making the Grade
- I give the latest book, Dexter by Design, an A. It is exciting, fast paced, and funny.
- Dexter in the Dark was a disappointment, as it stepped away from the characteristics that make this a successful book series. For that misstep, I give it a C.
- Dearly Devoted Dexter earns a B. It was well written, but the gory descriptions of the victims were a turn-off.
- Darkly Dreaming Dexter was a terrific introduction to Dexter and the people in his world. A+
If you haven’t read this series before, but you like your mystery and suspense fiction a little humorous, do yourself a favor and start from the beginning.