Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Written Word Wednesday - Distinctly Demonic Dexter

If a fan of the hit Showtime series Dexter were to open up either of Jeff Lindsay's first two books which served as inspiration for the series (Darkly Dreaming Dexter and Dearly Devoted Dexter), they would find a world which, while maybe not an exact match for the series (Doakes is even less sympathetic in the books, Masuka is more socially awkward than borderline perverted, there's no sign of annoying British addiction sponsors at all), is close enough not to send anyone away scratching their head wondering where in the world that came from. But with the third book, Dexter in the Dark, Lindsey throws any hope of maintaining a link between the books and the series out the window, because with the third book, Dexter ventures into the realm of the supernatural as we discover that the Dark Passenger -- the voice inside Dexter that pushes him to do what he does, and which protects and guides him with preternatural instincts and cunning -- isn't just a result of Dexter's traumatic youth, but is instead an actual preternatural presence; a presence that suddenly disappears from Dexter's mind after he investigates a strange crime scene involving decapitated bodies and ceramic bull heads, a disappearance that leaves Dexter at a loss as he suddenly finds himself afflicted with the normal weaknesses and flaws as everyone around him

Needless to say, this departure from the more mundane world of the earlier books -- if you can call a series about a sociopathic serial killer who only kills other serial killers mundane -- was not a big hit with most fans, and to be honest, I wasn't too sure how to react to it myself. I mean, sure, I'm a big fan of horror and SF and fantasy and the like, but shoehorning those elements into a series that wasn't originally designed as such can be off-putting. Granted, in the previous books there has always been a hint of the extraordinary about the Dark Passenger, and I admit to feeling like Lindsay had ascribed near-supernatural acuity to it in the past, but at the same time, there's a big difference between hints of supernatural possibilities and straight-up saying "The Dark Passenger is a possessing spirit, and it is not alone."

Another stumbling block for fans of the earlier books is the fact that the usually supremely confident Dexter is plagued by uncertainty and doubt throughout the novel. As a tool for causing tension and exploring the true nature of Dexter, I can appreciate what Lindsay was trying for; however, as the novels are told as first person narrative's from Dexter's P.O.V., shaking his confidence and having him question himself can't help but change the narrative style, which could account for why I had a hard time getting into the book at first.

Still, while there were some bumps along the road as I had to reconcile the cognitive dissonance engendered by the change in genre and tone, in the end I wound up getting sucked into the story and enjoying it overall. Not my favorite book in the series to be sure (that distinction belongs to Darkly Dreaming Dexter which is actually very close to the first season of the TV show), and I'm very curious to see what direction the next installment, Dexter by Design, goes in, but in the end, I'm glad I read it. How can you beat a ringing endorsement like that, huh?