Monday, January 18, 2010

Dexter by Design (book) by Jeff Lindsay

It seems like everyone must have been reading this book, because it took me months to get it via ILL. I started this series back when I was taking my reader's advisory class in my library science program - for one of my final projects, I read all the books in this series that were out at the time, figuring that, since the series had spawned a TV show, it'd be worth doing an "if you liked..." sheet for it. So, the series kind of gives me warm fuzzies for that reason. Unfortunately, this installment disappointed me a little. That's not to say I didn't enjoy it, I just didn't enjoy it as much as I thought I would. I think Dexter needs his claws sharpened.


Now that Rita and Dexter are married, they're on their honeymoon in Paris. Rita loves it, Dexter is less than enthused. Dexter's main problem is that he can't indulge the Dark Passenger's urge to kill in Paris. For Dexter, the one bright spot during his honeymoon is an...unconventional art show he and Rita attend. The show, a performance piece called Jennifer's Leg, consists of several monitors, each showing a woman cleaning her own leg of flesh. Finally, all that's left is bare white bone from her knee to her ankle. At the end of the line of monitors, on display, is that leg, and the very woman everyone just saw on screen shows up to admire her own leg.

Back in Miami, it looks as though a serial killer has begun killing people for the main purpose of artfully arranging their bodies as some kind of gruesome anti-tourism display. Once the police finally get a potential lead, Dexter accompanies his sister, Deborah, as she looks into potential suspects. Unfortunately, Deborah seems to be having problems with Dexter right now, and Dexter's not quite sure what's up. Eventually it becomes clear to Dexter (as it has been to the reader, who would probably share Deborah's reaction in the same situation) that Deborah is having problems reconciling the brother she thought she knew with the serial killer she found out he is in the last book. Although she knows that their father helped somewhat to turn Dexter into the man he is today, and she knows why he did it, she's also a police officer, and, as a police officer, she should turn Dexter in. Feeling somewhat peeved with his sister, Dexter stays in the car rather than accompanying her when she goes to talk to another suspect - and watches as she is stabbed. Dexter disables the man who stabbed her, and Deborah is rushed to the hospital.

Her chances don't look good, and, when the man who stabbed her is released from custody, Dexter decides to bend a few of his rules and kill him, figuring that everyone will assume he left town. Unfortunately, Dexter learns that this man probably wasn't the one who stabbed his sister, but rather the lover of the man who did - in the heat of the moment, Dexter thought he saw only one man, when there were actually two. To make matters worse, although the man and his lover were responsible for the gruesome anti-tourism displays, they never killed anyone. They stole the bodies from the morgue. That means that Dexter didn't just bend his rules, Harry's rules, he broke them, killing a completely innocent man.

Dexter, being Dexter and somewhat lacking in all the proper emotions, isn't too terribly broken up by this. However, it seems that the lover of the man he killed is not happy with him. The bathroom in which Dexter killed the man had, unbeknownst to Dexter, a video camera in it, and the man's lover posts footage of the killing on YouTube. The only good thing, as far as Dexter is concerned, is that his face isn't shown, but anyone who knows him would still be able to recognize him. As things progress, the man's lover tries to kidnap Cody and Astor (and gets hurt in the process, thanks to the enthusiast efforts of the two serial killers-to-be) and threatens to expose Dexter. In an effort to prevent the guy's final, great big "expose Dexter" plan, Dexter and Kyle, Deborah's boyfriend, travel to Havana to stop him (Kyle doesn't know about the whole "expose Dexter" thing). While his plans do get put on hold, they don't actually manage to catch him.

Back in Miami, Dexter learns that the guy has kidnapped Rita. Deborah's current partner goes on ahead to help her, although he makes it clear that once this is done he and Dexter will need to have a talk - he saw the footage of Dexter on YouTube. Fortunately for Dexter, the killer takes care of his problem for him, and Deborah's partner is dead. Rita is freed, the kids are ok, Deborah is recovered, but subdued, and the killer is dead.


Considering how long I waited for this book, it was a bit of a letdown. Dexter seemed a bit slow in this one. While I still enjoyed Dexter's "voice" (I think this requires the same kind of mindset that allows one to enjoy very dark humor), he seemed to dissolve into slow stupidity every time things didn't exactly go his way. Even the kids seemed to get frustrated with him, and I can't help but wonder if Cody and Astor aren't going to do something gruesome while Dexter is off taking care of something else one day. Actually, I kind of think they're going to turn on him one day, if this keeps up - they'll see his confusion and stupidity as weaknesses and take him down.

By the way, if you're new to the series, or if you've only watched the TV series, Cody and Astor will probably throw you off. Unlike Cody and Astor in the TV series (or, at least, up to season 2, which is all I've seen so far), Cody and Astor in the book are messed up kids walking down the path of stereotypical future serial killers - Cody likes to kill things, and Astor likes to watch. Even those who pretty much like Dexter might be a bit uncomfortable with the kids. Considering his own childhood and nature, it's not surprising that Dexter's first instinct is to teach them the Harry Way - in a way, it's kind of sweet, I suppose. He recognizes himself in them and, since it's worked for him so far, he wants to teach them to behave the way he'd been taught. Of course, if he were a normal guy, and if Rita actually figured things out, both kids would be getting intensive therapy. Since he's not a normal guy, I can't help but wonder...will a future book really have a scene with the kids killing something? And will that be too far over the top?

Well, back to Dexter. Although the "anti-tourism displays" and Jennifer's Leg are all pretty gruesome, as far as Dexter goes, it's a fairly "tame" book - he only kills one guy. However, that one guy doesn't even fit Dexter's rules. It stunned Dexter a bit to think that he might've killed someone who wasn't guilty of killing anyone, but he also got over that pretty quickly - does that mean it'll be easier for him to break his rules in future books? If that's the case, will he still manage to be likable, or will he just be another serial killer? I can imagine the arguments with Cody and Astor (or maybe just Astor, if Cody's not in a talkative mood): "But why are we only allowed to kill bad people? You don't always do that..."

Wow, Cody and Astor are fun to write about. Well, moving on again. By the end of the book it looks like Deborah has decided not to turn Dexter in (although, if I remember right, she doesn't know that he killed a relatively innocent guy). I wonder if she's going to stick to that, or if, as she regains a little bit of her kick ass attitude, she'll decide she was wrong? I don't know, but I suppose I'll find out in the next book - even though this book wasn't as good as I'd hoped, I still want to find out what happens next.

If Deborah does decide to turn Dexter in, she might want to take a harder look at her boyfriend, too. Kyle was...confusing in this book. Or maybe just disturbing. On the one hand, he obviously loves Deborah very much. He does what he can to try to help her, even though all he can really do is bring in a doctor who doesn't seem to do very much, however impressed Kyle happens to be with him. Just when you think Kyle seems a little sad and maybe even silly, with his hook hand and childlike hope that all it will take is a certain doctor to make Deborah all better again, he and Dexter go on that trip to Havana. In Havana, Kyle does inept spy stuff - you'd think that'd make him look even sillier, but instead he just comes across as creepy. I especially found his little talk with Dexter, in which he offers to kill the guy they're looking for if Dexter feels he can't pull the trigger himself, to be especially disturbing.

One thing I continue to like about the books more than the TV series is that Dexter is so obviously not normal. In the TV series, you get the feeling that, as much as he says he doesn't have feelings, he really does. Dexter in the books absolutely does not react like a normal person, so much so that you kind of wonder how more people haven't noticed. It took him forever to figure out why Deborah was so upset with him, for instance (and, although I felt like shouting at him to be a little less dense, I still enjoyed getting to read about Dexter trying to act appropriately in the face of emotional reactions he didn't understand). You'd think that, with as much time as Rita spends around him, she'd realize he's not quite right. How did they talk about Jennifer's Leg? Then again, since Jennifer's Leg didn't seem to give her the nightmares it should have, maybe she's not quite right either.

About Jennifer's Leg - I'm pretty sure that's impossible. Jennifer would have passed out from the pain and shock before she could clean her leg of flesh. If she took drugs, she wouldn't have been able to do what she needed to do, or feel all the pain she seemed to want to feel. I really hope that this performance art stuff is all entirely the result of Lindsay's messed up brain, but I have the feeling that the artist metioned in the book (some guy who, if I remember right, cut his own penis off) was probably real. People can be amazingly messed up.

Overall, I think the first book is the best book in the series so far, but I'm still enjoying it enough to want to read whatever comes next. Here's hoping Dexter's more on top of things next time.

And now for some lazy read-alikes and watch-alikes, almost completely copied and pasted from my post about the second season of the TV series.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Dexter (live action TV series) - I wonder if more people watch the TV series and start reading the books after they realize the show is based on a book character, or if more people started the books and then moved on to the show? Anyway, if you like Dexter, you'll probably like the TV series - just be aware that the storylines don't always follow the books, particularly after the first season.
  • Whale Season (book) by N.M. Kelby - This black comedy set in fictional Whale Harbor, Florida begins with a poker game between a used-car dealer and a man who claims he’s Jesus and continues with the threat of grisly murder. “Jesus” is actually a Cuban-American doctor and serial killer who views murder as an act of mercy. Those who'd like another serial killer story with a sense of humor might want to try this.
  • Florida Roadkill (book) by Tim Dorsey - In this darkly funny novel, fifteen varied criminals make their way through Florida in order to get to a suitcase full of drug money. Lindsay fans may like the Florida setting, writing style, and Serge, a goofy serial killer.
  • The Silence of the Lambs (book) by Thomas Harris - In this thriller, Clarice Starling, a young FBI trainee, is trying to catch a serial killer and seeks the expert advice of the imprisoned Hannibal Lector, a pleasant and well-mannered sociopath. Like Dexter, Hannibal can get into the mind of a killer because he is one himself. I haven't actually seen the movie (this is one of those where I'm not really sure how many others besides myself know about the movie but have never seen it), but it might also be a good watch-alike.

1 comment:

  1. Jeff Lindsay is praisable writer. The dexter character biography is awesome and 50 percent work is done by the actor. Awesome post. really attracted starting poster painting.

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