Author: Jeff Lindsay
Genre: Dark Comedic Horror Police Procedural
Read: Dec 25-31, 2010
Show: Summer 2010
Summary: Immediately watch the show unless you are a squeamish person or otherwise sensitive to gruesome fun.
First, the show. This is one of the best shows on Television, and lots of people know it. It’s incredibly well written and engaging, without resorting to quite the level of crazy plotting that HBO usually goes for. Still, there is plenty of shock, and lots of blood. Not much sex — maybe they thought it would be WAY too creepy to mix in — but lots of blood and death. The idea of a sort of vigilante serial killer protagonist is pretty brilliant, and I’m amazed they pulled it off so well. I mean, taken in any context Dexter himself is really one sick fuck. But you do like him. And the supporting cast is great too. All of them really.
My only problem with the first season is that the Ice Truck Killer is a little too psychic about what is going to happen and what will push Dexter’s buttons. Now granted, there’s a reason for this, but I didn’t totally buy this level of prediction. Still, I had a blast, watching the whole thing in like 2-3 nights.
The show is dark, and pretty grisly. Did I mention dark? I love it. It’s also very very funny, in a perfect way which doesn’t give up on any of the realism. This is great. The writers do this with Dexter’s inner monologue, and the way in which his observations are often so in opposition to the situation. But the really telling thing about the show, and what makes it really great fiction, is that sometimes (terrifyingly often actually) we agree with him. Everyone has a bit of the serial killer inside them. Don’t get me wrong. I escort spiders outside to avoid killing them, but a dark thought or two has been known to cross my mind — or issue out of my keyboard — as my own book is pretty dark. Not to mention that my title (The Darkening Dream) is oddly similar to Darkly Dreaming Dexter. But I want to put it on record that I’d never even heard of the novel when I came up with the title. I guess Jeff Lindsay and I both adore alliteration.
It’s hard for me to judge it objectively because I saw the show first. The voice is really great, and the opening killer — literally. The show stays pretty tight to the novel for a while, and a lot of interior monologue and signature elements are in both. When Dexter is being naughty, particularly at the beginning, it’s totally gripping. The novel isn’t very long, 300 pages, 72,800 words. I liked the book.
But I loved the show. It’s just better. There’s more to it (and I’m just talking the first season). The plot is pretty similar, but the characters have much much more depth in the show. In the novel only Dexter, LeGuerta, and Deb (to a lesser extent) are real characters. The others from the show are mostly there, but mostly just scaffolds. In the show they really pop. Angel, Doakes, Vince, Rita etc. They have more dimensionality.
The plot too is much better developed in the show. The back story with Harry is beefed up. There are more twists and turns, and rightfully, the Ice Truck Killer is brought into the story in an active (on screen fashion) much earlier. Dexter’s kills and habits are better defined and more ritualistic, and there is a strong element of the “Cop Show.” Novel Dexter is less likable than show Dexter. Even the voice of the novel — it’s strongest element — is actually better in the show. Michael C. Hall‘s performance is awesome, and he really sharpens the edge on it.
And all the plot changes are big improvements. I had my one little plot beef with the first season, but the novel has several gaping holes. Not that it isn’t still a fun book. But the end for example. Why doesn’t Deb have him locked up? He really didn’t act in a terribly human manner. Also the element of coincidence and near mind reading on the killer’s part is way more pronounced in the book. This always bugs me. Also, Lindsay didn’t do a great job pre-selling Dexter’s origin. He just pops it out of the woodwork at the end (having seen the show I knew it was coming). The show sets it up really nicely.
He did however do a brilliant job with the little bit about “Mommy hiding the rest of her body in the little hole.” Oh so dark and nasty!