Monday, October 09, 2006

A Darkly Daring Delight

I had planned to do a post on another subject tonight, but the rewrites on my urban fantasy are buzzing along at warp speed, and I don't want to lose my momentum. So I'm offering something else for today, and I'll plan to get back to serious blogging tomorrow.

First, I need to say "thank you" to Miss Snark. She's been recommending Darkly Dreaming Dexter (DDD) by Jeff Lindsay for over a year. The cutesy title had turned me off when it was released (I had the same reaction to Janet Evanovich's brightly colored book covers for her Stephanie Plum series--Evanovich was already on #9 before I read #1). However, after Miss Snark's recommendation, I picked DDD up to examine in the bookstore.

And found myself irritated by the first page.

For those of you who don't know, Dexter Morgan, the protagonist, is a serial killer. That, in and of itself, didn't faze me; I have a bookcase devoted to serial killer novels. What turned me off was that the book begins by talking about "the moon" and "the Need." Both are themes that have been done to death by other writers. Thomas Harris used them to great effect in his early Hannibal Lector novels.

If that weren't enough, try this line on for size: "And the Need was very strong now, very careful cold coiled creeping crackly cocked and ready, very strong, very much ready now--and still it waited and watched, and it made me wait and watch."

I never made it past the alliteration. I put the book down and moved on.

But Miss Snark continued to mention the damn thing in her blog. And, then, Showtime announced a new cable show based on the book. It became like a mosquito bite, annoying but not enough so that I was moved to scratch the itch.

Finally, one night recently, when I was in serious need of a distraction from a recalcitrant manuscript, I picked DDD up again and bought it. And read it in two sittings.

This is not a novel for the faint of heart. I would call it a hard-edged mystery. There are gruesome murders described in great detail.

In contrast to the bloody details, Lindsay writes in a humorous and playful voice although--occasionally--his penchant for alliteration has Dexter sounding like a drag queen on cocaine (at one point, Dexter describes himself as "dear diligent Dexter").

Dexter was orphaned at an early age and adopted by a police officer and his family. When the neighborhood pets began to go missing, Harry, his foster father, was the first to put the pieces together and realize that Dexter was "different." Rather than institutionalize the teen, Harry urged Dexter to channel his energies for good. The result is that Dexter Morgan, now an adult, works as a blood splatter expert for the Miami police department and kills serial killers on the side. When DDD opens, Dexter already has thirty-six notches on his belt.

The book begins with Dexter stalking a pedophile priest (yes, I know, another overdone novel element). The book didn't actually grab me until Page 15. This was the passage that did it:

"Whatever made me the way I am left me hollow, empty inside, unable to feel. It doesn't seem like a big deal. I'm quite sure most people fake an awful lot of everyday human contact. I just fake all of it. I fake it very well, and the feelings are never there."

This was a textbook description of the sociopath as first explained by Dr. Hervey Cleckley in his milestone book, The Mask of Sanity.

Lindsay gets other details right, too. While coldly logical, Dexter's homicidal impulse is initially sated after a kill, but inevitably returns, demanding satisfaction. His approach to murder is very ritualistic, and he takes souvenirs from each kill (a single drop of blood on a slide) so he can relive them later.

The hook for the first novel is a series of prostitute murders in Miami. Dexter is awed by the killer's craft and cannot decide whether he wants to meet the murderer to compare notes or to eliminate him. As the murders continue, Dexter begins to worry that he himself is doing them, that he is unraveling and will soon fall apart. Control is everything to Dexter, and the prospect of being out of control is terrifying. Here he is in his own words again describing why he is a blood spatter specialist:

"I don't do my job to catch the bad guys. Why would I want to do that? No, I do my job to make order out of chaos. To force the nasty blood stains to behave properly, and then go away. Others may use my work to catch criminals; that's fine by me, but it doesn't matter."

If you like mysteries, have a strong stomach and a quirky sense of humor, this is the book for you.

6 comments:

Emjay said...

Thanks for relieving me of any slight inclination I might have had to read this book!

Anonymous said...

I loved the second book, haven't found my way to the first yet.

Maya said...

May: I just checked the second book out of my library yesterday. Looking forward to reading it.

Susan said...

I've got the first one sitting on Mt. TBR, of course. I had it wishlisted simply because, like you, I'd been deluged with talk about it. Thanks for the peek inside; I'm eager to check this out now!

Maya said...

Susan: Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Let me know.

Susan said...

Oh, it'll be awhile yet.