Dexter Morgan and I go back a way, and it’s always been something of a love/hate relationship.
I reviewed the book that started it all for The Third Alternative back in 2005, and didn’t like it very much.
Then along came the television series, and being a contrary bugger I thoroughly enjoyed it, at least for the two series I caught before giving up on the dreaded boobtube (and Dexter may have headed off to the great channel in the Sky before that).
And now here we are, with a friend lending me her box set of the first five series, and I find myself strangely ambivalent rewatching the early episodes.
I enjoy them every bit as much as before, or at least it seems that way for the fifty odd minutes that a viewing takes, but then when it’s done I feel strangely deflated, with no real enthusiasm for another bite out of the Dexter Morgan pie, no pressing need to reprise what happens next.
It’s a most peculiar sensation, almost as if I’m simply watching out of some misguided sense of duty, and I’m wondering if this feeling will endure when I get into the new (to me) material.
So what thoughts do the rest of you have, if any, on the subject of Dexter Morgan?
Can a serial killer legitimately be regarded as a hero?
And before I take my leave, here’s that review I mentioned, exactly as it appeared in the long lost pages of TTA #41, warts and all :-
DARKLY DREAMING DEXTER by JEFF LINDSAY
Orion hb, 288pp, £9.99 www.orionbooks.co.uk
Dexter Morgan is a forensic officer for the Miami police, specialising in blood spatter patterns, which is slightly strange in that Dexter is fastidious where blood is concerned, one might even say phobic. There’s a lot more to Dexter than meets the eye. He has no real friends, though gifted with an ability to effortlessly charm people; adopted at an early age by policeman Harry, whom he idolised, Dexter’s only real human contact is with stepsister Debbie. Deb is a cop too, stuck in Vice and working street corners dressed in hooker regalia, much to her disgust. Deb wants to transfer to Homicide, and for that she needs to prove herself by busting a big case. Dexter agrees to help her trap a serial killer now operating in Miami, one who appears to share certain of his own characteristics. Dexter is in fact a killer himself, though thanks to Harry’s influence he only gratifies his murderous impulses with the likes of rapists, paedophiles, killers etc. He has a knack for getting inside the minds of these predators, but with this new killer on the block there is an almost psychic connection, Dexter dreaming of the various crime scenes before the murders even take place. All the evidence hints that the killer has taken a personal interest in him, and with Deb’s life on the line it’s vital that Dexter tracks down his nemesis.
I have mixed feelings about this book. There’s a lot to commend it, but also much that doesn’t seem quite right, such as the absolutely ghastly title. At bottom it’s the thriller as pitch black comedy, an attempt to deliver an Addams Family style parody of the people who kill people, and I don’t feel that really works. There is nothing funny or light-hearted about the stuff Dexter does, such as in the opening scene where he’s unearthed the bodies of child victims of a paedophile he is about to kill. These scenes are necessary by way of ‘justification’ for the atrocities Dexter himself commits, but just the same their inclusion means the novel always faces an uphill battle in pitching itself to the reader as comedy. What humour we do get mostly arises out of the characterisation and Dexter’s first person narration of the story, with all of his foibles and peccadilloes on display. Dexter is a rather prim and fussy little man, continually emphasising his superior intelligence (albeit the case for this is made by having his support cast consistently act stupid, except when the plot requires the odd flash of genius from them) and the fact that he has no emotions, so eventually you wonder why he feels this is necessary, and his voice soon starts to grate. The idea that, although undeniably a psychopath, he will be so picky about who he kills doesn’t really ring true either. Dexter falls uneasily between two stools; we can’t quite believe that what’s being presented here is a credible view inside the mind of a serial killer, but at the same time he’s not quite enough the figure of fun for us to feel comfortable laughing at him.
On the plus side, there’s a delightfully jaundiced view of police work, as Dexter pin pricks all the balloons sent up by his colleagues and satirises the political side of catching killers, and just occasionally Dexter’s antics tap into a vein of genuine humour, such as when he completely misreads the signals being put out by a putative girlfriend (actually, I don’t think it’s just serial killers who have trouble in that department). The plot, with its many ramifications, holds the interest, with the hint that all this could be taking place in Dexter’s mind, but falters in the final furlong to deliver an ending that anyone who’s read Michael Marshall’s The Straw Men will see coming. It explains what has been going on, but at the same time doesn’t quite satisfy. Looked at as a whole this was an undemanding way to pass a few hours, but while intriguing and with a lot of potential the idea behind it all doesn’t really come off.