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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Darkly Dreaming Dexter

Jeff Lindsay

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To purchase Darkly Dreaming Dexter

Title: Darkly Dreaming Dexter
Author: Jeff Lindsay
Genre: Novel
Written: 2004
Length: 341 pages
Availability: Darkly Dreaming Dexter - US
Darkly Dreaming Dexter - UK
Darkly Dreaming Dexter - Canada
Darkly Dreaming Dexter - India
Ce cher Dexter - France
Des Todes dunkler Bruder - Deutschland
La mano sinistra di Dio - Italia
El oscuro pasajero - España
. .
DVD: Dexter: The First Season - US
Dexter: The Second Season - US
Dexter: The Third Season - US
Dexter: The Fourth Season - US
  • The first in the Dexter-series

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Our Assessment:

B : uses the premise -- a sympathetic serial-killer-protagonist -- very well, and finds a good voice for this narrator

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Entertainment Weekly C 30/7/2004 Jennifer Reese
The Guardian A- 20/11/2004 Maxim Jakubowski
The NY Times C+ 15/7/2004 Janet Maslin
The NY Times Book Rev. . 25/7/2004 Marilyn Stasio
The New Yorker . 26/7/2004 .
The Telegraph . 17/11/2004 Susanna Yager
USA Today . 11/8/2004 Carol Memmot

  Review Consensus:

  Rather mixed feelings, but several impressed by what Lindsay has done and pulls off

  From the Reviews:
  • "As Dexter grows increasingly aroused and inspired by these splashy new murders, sticking with his narrative becomes almost unbearably icky. The novel unravels in a nasty, campy denouement that leaves little doubt: Avowed serial killers, however tame, do not make appeaing protagonists over the long haul." - Jennifer Reese, Entertainment Weekly

  • "A virtuoso debut by a new young American author, this is a compulsive trip through territory rendered familiar by the psycho- thrillers of Thomas Harris, Michael Connelly and other masters of the dark arts of abnormal pathology. (...) Articulate and ghoulish, Dexter is one of a kind and his adventures never fail to entertain despite one final twist too many. Annoyingly clever." - Maxim Jakubowski, The Guardian

  • "With monstrously windy prose and Needless Capital Letters, Mr. Lindsay makes it clear from the outset that Dexter answers to his own inner torments. (...) Darkly Dreaming Dexter has enough plot novelty to give it some currency. A trick ending can make up for the uninspired storytelling that leads up to it." - Janet Maslin, The New York Times

  • "The plot has some nice twists, and the Miami setting contributes its own eccentric flavor. But the real appeal of this macabre tour-de-force is Dexter's sardonic voice, so snappy and smart, and yet so full of self-loathing that we hate ourselves for laughing." - Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Dexter Morgan, the namesake of Lindsay’s first novel, is one of the most likable vigilante serial killers in recent thriller literature. This is mainly because of his average Joe-ness" - The New Yorker

  • "A psychopath with a sense of irony and even a vestigial conscience is a novelty and so is this tasteless but witty, entertaining romp." - Susanna Yager, The Telegraph

  • "Lindsay's tale is daring and unexpectedly comedic. The writing is lively and the plot steps away from the common ground in which many thrillers are rooted. When it comes to light, the tragic incident in Dexter's past rolls over us like a nightmare from which we can't wake up." - Carol Memmot, USA Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Darkly Dreaming Dexter introduces Dexter Morgan -- and introduces him doing what he likes to do best, as the novel opens with him killing a killer. In this case, that's a priest who has taken advantage of some orphans over the years. Dexter dispatches him, making for notch thirty-six on his belt -- or rather: blood drop thirty-six on the slides that are the only mementoes he keeps of his kills.
       A serial killer may seem an unlikely protagonist for a crime series, but Dexter isn't your usual serial killer. A blood spatter pattern analyst for the Miami police, he is, at least in part, on the right side: he may not have much of a conscience, but he does only target the bad guys (and, yes, the irony is not lost on him). His foster father, Harry, was a cop who recognized Dexter's ... instincts, and helped channel them in this ... constructive way. (Dexter was traumatized as a very young child, unleashing this particular beast within -- the 'Dark Passenger' who has accompanied him all his life, and who repeatedly makes his presence felt to see that his needs are met.)
       Dexter narrates his own story, and much of the appeal of the novel comes from this unusual voice. Trained by Harry to be very self-aware, Dexter has no illusions about who and what he is, as well as how he might end up, given his hobby. He knows he is unlovable -- "Something in me is broken or missing, and sooner or later the other person catches me Acting, or one of Those Nights comes along" -- but he tries his best to not stand out and somehow blend in. He even has a girlfriend, Rita -- but that only works because she too is so damaged that she can't deal with anything but the most superficial sort of relationship (i.e. nothing approaching intimacy), and that's just fine with Dexter whose needs are of an entirely different sort anyway (bloodlust, yes; regular lust, not so much).
       Dexter is a meticulous planner, and is very careful in what he does, but he's still surprisingly human: he doesn't slip badly here, but he does slip -- a rush-job here, misreading Rita (and her desires) there. Nothing fatal, but they complicate things.
       Dexter has a sister, Deborah, who works Miami vice but desperately wants to get into homicide (the department, not the activity). She is very close to her brother, and she recognizes something is off about him, but prefers to overlook it. But she does know Dexter has really, really good instincts when it comes to getting into the minds of murderers, especially of the serial kind:

Because you have a feeling for these things sometimes. The serial ones. That's what they all say. Dexter has a feeling sometimes.
       So when yet another chopped up but blood-drained corpse is found she sees her chance to play a part in the investigation, with Dexter's help.
       Dexter sees a kindred spirit in this particular killer -- "a cold, careful monster, and absolutely fascinating to me" -- and he's not sure whether he wants to help Deborah -- or go after the guy himself. He does help Deborah -- but as it turns out the killer is not entirely unaware of Dexter either, and so Dexter gets more involved, officially and not, than expected.
       The unusual protagonist is certainly one thing that makes Darkly Dreaming Dexter intriguing: vigilantes are a dime a dozen, as are half-bent and self-righteous cops, but Dexter is of an entirely different order. Yes, he offs the bad guys, and just the bad guys, but he really, really likes it. And it's not so much a sense of satisfaction at having done the right thing; no, he really gets off on killing these monsters -- while also recognizing that he is one of them.
       Lindsay pulls this off by making this unloved character surprisingly sympathetic. Dexter wants and asks for no pity, but his attitude wins one over, and his wry and amusing tone is perfect for the absurdities of these situations. And though he is an unfeeling monster, Lindsay also makes him human -- so, for example: "A man can only take so much. Even a phony man like me."
       The mystery here is a decent one, though it gets a bit rushed and complicated; still, a solid start to the series, and certainly something (and someone) to build on.

       Comparisons with the TV series based on the book are now inevitable, and certainly the first season -- based closely on this volume -- is a rare superior adaptation. The time devoted to character development -- especially of the secondary characters -- helps, but the TV writers also prove far superior to Lindsay as far as repartee goes; some of what's in the book is really quite second-rate. Nevertheless, Lindsay does do Dexter's voice very well, and when he avoids dialogue Darkly Dreaming Dexter is an oddly entertaining and satisfying little thriller, and -- if you can stand the thought of this sort of blood-lusting protagonist -- quite enjoyable.

- M.A.Orthofer, 17 April 2011

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Darkly Dreaming Dexter: Reviews: Dexter series: Books by Jeff Lindsay in the Dexter-series under review:
  1. Darkly Dreaming Dexter
  2. Dearly Devoted Dexter
  3. Dexter in the Dark
  4. Dexter by Design
  5. Dexter is Delicious
  6. Double Dexter
  7. Dexter's Final Cut
  8. Dexter is Dead
Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American author Jeff Lindsay (pen name of Jeffry P. Freundlich) was born in 1952.

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© 2011-2015 the complete review

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