A few years ago, I had a thing for serial killer novels. I read Patricia Cornwell. I read James Patterson. I read Caleb Carr. I think what eventually turned me off of this kind of mystery was that, after a while, I realized that I was pretty much reading the same book over and over again (except for Carr, who I re-read because his books are so fantastic). Darkly Dreaming Dexter is a serial killer novel, but the twist is that the narrator is a serial killer, too.
This book has been made into a television series, so I’m not going to much about with plot summaries (not that I do most of the time, anyway). What I like about this book most is how Lindsay wrote it. It’s a fantastic challenge to use a narrator who is a serial killer that gets away with it. I mean, who in their right mind would root for this guy? There are a few things that redeem him. First, he only kills people who have committed multiple murders and were never caught or punished for it. Second, he does care (as much as he can) about his family. And third, his sense of humor. Dexter is a very funny, if macabre, guy and a highly developed sense of snark. The story is told in a wickedly funny stream of Dexter-consciousness. The other thing that lets Lindsay get away with his choice of narrator is that you don’t read much about what Dexter actually does to people when he kills them. You learn why his victims were chosen, but not what actually happens to them. If you did know…Yikes.
The mystery itself is a bit humdrum, I think. It was much less interesting than learning more about how Dexter gets away with his crimes and how he thinks about the world. Mostly, he solves the crime because he can intuit what the other killer is up to, though he has a hard time explaining how he knows these things without incriminating himself. The ending was a let down, too, mostly because Dexter is kind of out of it during the big confrontation scene, and is trying to reconcile his sociopathic urge to kill with his code of honor to only kill the people who “deserve” it. Consequently, a lot of really important things happen–like what happens to the lead detective and the killer himself–without Dexter noticing. Granted, I’ve studied enough literature to know about unreliable narrators, but this ending was rather annoying after all the build up. Plus, at a scant 288 pages, I can’t help but feel that there was so much more that Lindsay could have done with this story.