Thursday, May 10, 2012
What do you do if you find that your young son is killing small animals, burying them in the backyard? What do you do if you look into his eyes and what you see is very dark and scary..and yet you love him and do not want him to end up in prison forever?
Well, if you are a wise police officer who has seen some terrible things over your career, and the adopted father of young Dexter Morgan, you look for a way to make the best of the situation. You give him the Code of Harry to follow, to direct his desire, his need to kill. You try to direct it in way that you see as actually being a good thing and most of all a way to protect Dexter from getting caught. He can only kill those who deserve it, with a high standard of proof of their guilt. They must be guilty of doing very, very bad things, yet people who have often escaped the criminal justice system. Now they will suffer from Dexter's justice, when he and his Dark Passenger visit in the night and they very cleanly disappear, able to do no more harm.
The first book in the series is Darkly Dreaming Dexter and it is perhaps my favorite of the series. I think it is the one book that you must read in order, because it is here that we will find out most of Dexter's back story, meet his vice cop sister Deb, his pretend girlfriend Rita and, in his memories, his adopted father Harry who first guided him on the path he now follows. The author has a big job here. He must convince us to actually like a man who is a serial killer, who believes he is not fully human, to care about what happens to him and how he feels. Well, how he would feel if he actually could have feelings, which he does not believe he can. And the author totally succeeds. Dexter is smart and funny, very clever and this first adventure is quite good and a great introduction to the series.
In the next book, Dearly Devoted Dexter, the books begins with Dexter having just completed his 40th killing, carefully placing a drop of blood from his latest victim on a glass slide to add to his collection. Gruesome, we think, until we arrive at the scene of the crime Dexter is helping investigate. Oh, did I mention that Dexter works for the Miami police, as a blood splatter expert? What a perfect job for our Dexter. Well, police are called to a house by a neighbor because of the terrible noise coming from a house. It is the victim, screaming..well, as much as he can scream, because you see he has...no, I will allow you to discover the condition they find him in, but let me just say, it was something I never considered possible and was quite disturbing, possibly as disturbing as anything in any of these rather dark books.
Next is Dexter in the Dark. Sadly, this is easiest my least favorite of the series, just way too over the top. Dexter's Dark Passenger disappears early in the book, seemingly scared off by the terrible, and very powerful evil that Dexter will confront. While we still have the always amusing Dexter to entertain us, his always miffed sister Deb as his foil and his accidental new family to keep thing lively, the central plot is just too melodramatic to be believable. That is saying something.
Really, you might just skip this one.
But do not give up, because in the fourth book,Dexter By Design , Lindsay is back on track. Dexter and his wife have just returned from their honeymoon...yes, Dexter can't believe it either...in Paris and soon involved in a horrible and very bizarre series of crimes. Bodies, emptied out and artfully displayed with a variety of tourist related materials where their organs once were, start popping up all over Miami. Needless to say, this is not good for the tourist business. And even worse for Dexter is when his sister is critically wounded by a suspect and Dexter himself may become the murderer's next victim.
In Dexter is Delicious, our hero is undergoing some big changes at home, changes that are spilling over into his extracurricular, late night activities. In the last book, Dexter became an instant family man when he married Rita and became stepfather to her two young children, children who have more in common with Dexter than he ever could have thought. But now he and Rita have had a baby as well, and Dexter is amazed that he may actually be feeling something, love for this baby. He decides that he will become a man worthy of these children, ignoring his Dark Passenger. Well, we just know that is not going to work for long!
When he is called to help investigate the possible kidnapping of a teenage girl, he runs into a very dark underside of bright sunny Miami, a scene fulls of goths, pretend vampires and very real cannibals. Keep the title in mind...is Dexter really delicious? Oh my!
And last, but not least, we have Double Dexter. The book opens with Dexter and his Dark Passenger ridding the world of a child molester, doing what he does best. But then things start to go horrible wrong for him when he realizes someone has seem him 'taking care of business'. Not a good thing and he decides he must find this Witness and make sure he does not go to the police. Hmm...seems a bit of a violation of the Code of Happy if you ask me.
But from there things go even a bit more off track for Dexter, including a home life that is no longer the source of calm and great food that it once was. Food is Very, Very Important to Dexter and Rita is no longer cooking, it seems. And of course, once again his sister Deb is demanding Dexter's help is solving a series of bizarre and gruesome murders. Since the victims are cops, this one strikes a bit too close to home.
I was a bit of a fan of the TV series based on these books, so it was interesting to see how it compared. They are close in many ways and yet also with some significant differences. One of the biggest, and one thing I prefer about the books, is that originally Dexter's two stepchildren are not the normal, happily little kids in the Showtime series. Their father, Rita's ex-husband, was a very bad man that abused both Rita and the kids and created two dark little people, in desperate need of Dexter's experienced guidance. I love the extra layer that adds to the stories. I also like that in the books Dexter is even funny, more witty than on TV. Oddly, I do not think the books are are gruesome as the TV was, and that may not be a bad thing.
And I do love the Miami setting. It is perfect for these books, hot, sunny Florida contrasted with the dark, cold interior of Dexter's world.
But honestly, the plots in some of the books are quite uneven...and do not get me started on the whole Moloch plot of the third book. Really Mr. Lindsay, what were you thinking with that one? At his best, Dexter is very smart, very clever, totally twisted and often quite funny. Sadly, in a couple of the books he is replaced by an all too human, bumbling Dexter that is not as entertaining or as interesting. Dexter should be cool and calculating and never loose control, while his sister Deb is the flake and I am not a happy fan when that is not how things play out.
If you are a fan of the TV series and just enjoy a good story with a touch of gore and mayhem, I would totally recommend the first two books, Darkly Dreaming Dexter and Dearly Devoted Dexter and the fourth and fifth are very good as well. The other two can be skipped with no loss.