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Wednesday, 10 January 2007 00:00

Dexter: friendly, gruesome with a twist of sociopath

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Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay. New York: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard. $12.95 – 288 pages. Dearly Devoted Dexter by Jeff Lindsay. New York: Doubleday and Company. $22.95 – 292 pages.

 


“It is thrilling to watch Dexter struggle between everyday vanilla reality and the compelling kaleidoscopic thrall of his own bloody fantasies.”

— Fangoria


Well, I guess I am caught up in the feeding frenzy attending the arrival of “Dexter” on Showtime — a new series that is allegedly based on Jeff Lindsay’s two disarming novels. Certainly, I have to admit that Lindsay has a provocative concept: a Miami vice cop (he specializes in blood splatter) who moonlights as a serial killer.

Obviously, there is something of a vicarious thrill at work here for readers. Dexter Morgan has ample opportunities to identify an assortment of devious killers who have escaped justice (so far!): murderous pedophiles, purveyors of drugs and serial rapists/killers who prey on the helpless yet manage to escape judgment. The methodical Dexter does a bit of research and surveillance (computers are wonderful). When he finds positive evidence of guilt, he renders bloody justice (he has a penchant for dismemberment), usually dispatching his victims in remote, abandoned buildings — something that Miami seems to have in excess. The remains of his victims are usually packaged and consigned to a watery grave off the coast, leaving nothing behind except a single blood sample as a “souvenir.” (He now has 40.) Dexter is fond of observing that he is a “neat monster” who always cleans up after himself. Although he perceives himself as an agent of justice, Dexter readily admits that he enjoys his work in a way that has nothing to do with legal punishment.

Dexter speaks to the reader in his own voice, wryly acknowledging that he is a “loner.” Although he feels something akin to affection for his step-sister, Deb (also a cop), and reveres the memory of his dead step-father (“He made me what I am,” says Dexter), he generally views the rest of humanity with a mix of pity and suspicion. His tone varies from dark whimsy and bad puns to occasional bouts of self-loathing, especially when his “dark passenger,” a compelling inner voice, forces him to venture into the night in search of a “qualified victim,” of which Miami has a bountiful supply. Indeed, the passages in which Dexter stalks pedophiles and child rapists beneath a full moon. The manic delirium he experiences as he closes in is a powerful evocation of terror and suspense. At least, these episodes gave me the willies!

When I learned that Jeff Lindsay’s Dexter was on Showtime, I did the unthinkable. I called DirecTV and added Showtime to my programming. Now, after six segments and a new season on the horizon, I’ll give the series my qualified approval. Michael C. Hall (Six Feet Under) is wonderful as Dexter, and the first two programs were excellent since they were faithful to the books. However, somewhere in the third episode, the series began to drift away from Lindsay’s tightly crafted novels.

The Showtime writers are beginning to create additional plots and sub-plots. Although “Dexter” is still one of the most provocative programs on television, the increasing number of deviations/revisions troubles me.

For example Lt. La Guerta, Dexter’s overly attentive and devious boss, ends up as the victim of “the ice truck killer” at the end of the novel, Darkly Dreaming Dexter. However, she is alive and kicking in the series. Plus, she has a relatively pleasant personality. In addition, Sgt. Doakes, a mean-tempered cop, has his suspicions about Dexter. In fact, in the second novel, he ruins our killer’s stalking plans by maintaining a dogged surveillance of Dexter’s “after hours activities” until he loses most of his appendages (and his tongue) to a rogue serial killer at the end of Dearly Devoted Dexter. Again, on the series, he appears to be a regular with all of his body parts.

Then, there is Dexter’s “girlfriend,” Rita. In the series, she has an abusive ex-hubby who is a drug addict. Dexter frames him when it appears that he might get custody of Rita’s two children. The story plays well, but Rita’s husband does not exist in the Lindsay novels. To complicate the relationship between series and novels further, the Showtime series gives Deb a boyfriend who is obviously a serial killer himself. He has an amputee fetish and he seems to be obsessed with Dexter. Finally, the series has decided to give Dexter a recently deceased father.

I suppose only a purist such as myself would expect a series based on Jeff Lindsay’s novels to remain true to the original. As much as I admire the series, I am becoming increasingly disappointed in the widening gap between the Dexter novels and the Showtime adaptations. At present, the two treatments are only linked by a single bond: the remarkable performance of Michael C. Hall, an actor who can do more with a brief, self-deprecating smirk than any actor on television.

Coming soon, Jeff Lindsay’s third novel, Dexter in the Dark.

(Gary Carden is a writer and storyteller who can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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