Wednesday, March 30, 2005

I don't remember where I first heard about Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay, but the title had stuck in my mind so I grabbed it off the shelf when I saw it downstairs. It plays on the cliche of "it takes one to know one" by featuring as its main character a sociopathic serial killer who happens to be a blood spatter analyst for the Miami Police Department. In this book, which is obviously the first entry in what will be a series, Dexter is faced with another serial killer to whom he seems to be linked in some way. It's an interesting conceit for a mystery series, but one that I think fails for a couple of reasons.

To begin with, the book is written from Dexter's point of view. In other books I've read that feature sociopaths or serial killers they are kept at a distance by a third person point of view or a first person narrator other than the sociopath. Having Dexter as the narrator makes us, the readers, complicit in his murders; we are riding shotgun as he kills. Lindsay tries to make this less uncomfortable by having Dexter be a vigilante - only killing those who "deserve" it (other killers, child molesters, etc) but we are still in the squeamish position of being inside his thoughts and experiencing his pleasure as he does the deed.

I could actually see this premise working, but it would take a very talented writer to walk that edge and unfortunately, I don't think Lindsay has the talent needed to pull it off. The character of Dexter obviously owes much to Carol O'Connell's Kathy Mallory (especially his backstory, which is virtually identical to hers), but where Mallory is kept an intriguing mystery because we have to infer her nature from her actions and the way the other characters interact with her, Dexter leaves nothing to the imagination. He constantly reminds us he is a sociopath and a killer and his admiration for the other serial killer becomes not only nauseating but tedious as well. The plot is predictable and tired (I think I figured it out before the first 50 pages were through) and the writing is a little clunky and repetitive and doesn't make much use of the setting or, oddly enough, Dexter's profession. There are definite possibilities in the characters and the idea, I just think Lindsay isn't up to the task of making it anything more than a generic thriller with a flashy gimmick.

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