‘Dexter’ darkly differs from series

Some books, no matter the quality, slip quietly into and out of the collective consciousness. Others, for whatever reason, spark a cultural phenomenon. “Darkly Dreaming Dexter” by Jeff Lindsay is one of the latter.

The inspiration for Showtime’s popular television series “Dexter” (currently entering its sixth season), “Darkly Dreaming Dexter” will seem familiar to fans of the show. The series’ first season draws heavily from the events of the book, but Showtime’s dramedy about a serial-killing blood-spatter analyst is more informed by, than based on, Lindsay’s dark creation.

For the uninitiated, Lindsay’s novels follow the life of Dexter Morgan, a sociopath who fills his need to kill by pursuing the dregs of society: repeat criminals. Murderers, rapists and others who escape justice often come to their ends at Morgan’s hand.

By night Morgan stalks these undesirables and quenches his thirst for violence; by day he has a successful career with the Miami-Dade police department. Also part of his “disguise” as normal is his girlfriend, Rita, whom he lacks the capacity to truly love, as well as her two children, who exhibit sociopathic tendencies themselves.
Morgan’s stable life is upset in “Darkly Dreaming Dexter” when another serial killer (the Tamiami Slasher) begins taunting him. He becomes obsessed with tracking down this killer, in whom he sees a kindred spirit.

A delicate dance commences between two evil geniuses, with a spectacularly symbolic twist ending I won’t spoil here for those of you who haven’t seen the series. (There are significant differences between the plots of the two mediums, but the identity of the killer is not one of them.)

The book and its sequels have a different sort of humor than that seen on the series. While on television Morgan is played as a lovable and somewhat hapless loser when it comes to the “normal” parts of his life, in Lindsay’s books his actions are always shrewd and calculated.

Morgan is an even more startling protagonist in print, with his ambitions and thoughts laid bare constantly, uninterrupted by scenes of action as in film.

This works for the book in a way it never could on TV. I’d say that the show hinges on its inappropriate lightheartedness; otherwise the scenes of carnage would be tough to move past.

In the book, the violent images are not particularly vivid and the tone is so clinical it’s not difficult to forget to be upset by them. In Morgan’s head, the importance of emotions is quite diminished.

I quite liked this book. I’m definitely looking forward to tracking down the sequels, especially as the later books bear little relation to the series in terms of plot and character. I’d recommend “Darkly Dreaming Dexter” to readers with a morbid sense of humor and an interest in mystery novels. It was perhaps not as cerebral or as compulsively entertaining as the show based on it, but intelligent and enjoyable nonetheless.

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