Book Review: Darkly Dreaming Dexter

Congratulations, readers – we just finished our fourth book (in as many weeks) and our last book for the month of September (forgetting, of course, our September/October crossover book, Frankenstein). What a way to finish September’s theme of books that have been made into Movies/TV shows! Of course, this week brought around the finale of one of my favorite shows, “Dexter.” I haven’t watched the big finale yet – I think I’m feeling a sense of sorrow over it ending, and am a little fearful of the outcome, but I digress…. Little known too most (well, those who don’t pay attention to the show’s intro), the infamous series was inspired by the Dexter book series by Jeff Lindsay. This week, we read Lindsay’s first installment, Darkly Dreaming Dexter.

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What a thriller this novel was! Lindsay introduces us to a character who is charming, attractive, likeable and – well – a serial killer. Dexter, the novel’s protagonist, is forgiven by a few redeeming qualities: his protection of his sister, his practice of only killing “people who deserve it” (child rapists, murderers, the scum of society), and his complete lack of human emotion. This last quality translates into a good bit of dry (and exceptionally dark) humor, bringing light into Lindsay’s novel – a much welcome break from the tension Lindsay creates.

Dexter is a blood spatter analyst for the Miami Metro Police Department’s homicide unit – a wonderful and ironic profession for a sociopathic killer. The homicide unit begins investigating a string of particularly gruesome murders – murders that pique Dexter’s interest and tickle a repressed memory he cannot put his finger on. In trying to solve the murder (and figure out why he feels a kinship with the killer), Dexter begins to suspect that maybe he is the murder, and his “Dark Passenger” is taking over while Dexter is darkly dreaming. Dexter is torn between wanting to find the killer, and trying to convince himself that his innate ability to understand the murders and the motives behind them is not because he is committing murder in his sleep.

Dexter’s internal monologue – both with himself and his “Dark Passenger” – drive the story, allowing us to not only understand, but sympathize with Lindsay’s main man. This is one thing the novel does better than the show ever did – and one of the biggest differences between Dexter-the-show, and Dexter-the-book. Dexter is not, as seen in the show, a man with the innate desire to kill. He is, in fact, a man who has a force inside of him that cannot be controlled, despite his best efforts – something that is entirely separate from Dexter-the-man. This “Dark Passenger” (or “lizard brain”) is as old as mankind, and Dexter sees it in different people – people who are hiding in plain sight. Perhaps this “lizard brain” is in all of us – shoved in some dark corner of our brain. If we’re all being honest with ourselves, aren’t we all prone to irrational bursts of anger and terrible thoughts? It is our ability to control these things, and completely dismiss them as the terrible thoughts they are, which separates us from the Dexters of the world.

 I felt like Dexter spent an exceptional amount of time trying to convince us – and himself – that he was different from the rest of us. His thoughts are spent referring to “humans” as if they were separate from him, yet he experiences completely human feelings like love (for his sister), fear and anger. At the end of the story, with a great climax, Dexter reveals his true humanity – although he cannot accept it himself.

The high tension and mystery in Darkly Dreaming Dexter made it a captivating read! Lindsay hooks you on many levels – first through your desire to better understand the character, then through your wish to find the killer, and next in sharing Dexter’s need to know why the murders are so familiar to him.

If you’re a fan of the show, the first season is inspired directly by this novel, but the book offers enough differences to keep you on the edge of your seat. Try not to spend time comparing the two – many changes were made to expand a 223-page book into a season with 10 hour-long episodes. Crime fiction isn’t really my “genre of choice,” but I’m so happy I finally picked up a Dexter book, and am looking forward to reading the rest of the series. The “alternate universe” of the books (vs. the show) allows the world of Dexter to continue in my mind!

So what do you think? Did you like Darkly Dreaming Dexter? Are you a fan of the show? Did the differences (and similarities) throw you off at all? How do you feel about Dexter’s “lizard brain?” Do you hate yourself for loving a serial killer?! If you’ve seen the end of the show – please don’t leave any SPOILERS! I haven’t gotten there yet, and I might tap into my lizard brain if someone ruins it for me (just kidding)!!!

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Book Review: Darkly Dreaming Dexter

  1. Haley

    I loved this book! I already started the second one and want to watch it but Netflix took it off streaming. I read a lot of crime fiction but you don’t usually fall in love with the serial killer. I thought this book was very funny and I love how he is separate from “the humans.” I’ve read books where you root for the killer but I think Dexter is so great because he follows the Code of Harry and he does have human feelings and wants to be a good bad guy. I also love the idea that the Dark Passengers in can spot themselves in others. I want Dexter to get an apprentice…

    • Have you never watched the show?! Oh man – you’re in for a thrill ride! The book was really great – I’m glad you enjoyed it too! Even after a few years of watching the show, I’m having a hard time accepting the fact that I love a serial killer hahaha

  2. Purple Spark Reading

    I’m pretty certain this book is on my to-read list. Might have to bring it to the top to take a look at sooner 🙂 Great review!

  3. Haley

    Hi, my name’s Haley and I’m a serial finisher. Watched the whole show and read all seven books after reading the first one. I don’t know if I should be proud but I hate winter so it gave me something to do. The book and show were completely different from characters they killed or didn’t kill, the bad guys they introduced, the relationship with Harry and Dexter’s brother, and the gender of his child. I enjoyed the Dark Passenger in the book more because it was another character and was explained very well but Deb’s book character was flat and bitchy without any redeeming secretly loving qualities she had on the show. I really didn’t like the third book, Dexter in the Dark. It took a weird turn into the supernatural/metaphysical/mythological with the Dark Passengers of the world and an almighty godlike father of them all. It was hard to finish but the rest of the series was great.

    • HA! Hi Haley, serial finisher. Glad you read the series, and your comments on it are interesting. I’ll have to find another chance to keep reading them. Maybe my next year in book reviews should be finishing up the various series I’ve started this year: Hitchhiker’s Guide, The Cousin’s War (The White Queen), and Dexter so far… and now the Celtic Wolves series…

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