Darkly Dreaming Dexter

Darkly Dreaming Dexter (Dexter, #1)


Written by Jeff Lindsay, DDD has spawned the wildly successful Dexter Showtime drama. It is about a sociopathic/psychopathic serial murderer with a sense of justice.


I mentioned in a blog post last week I had been enjoying the TV show, and naturally I’m going to pick up the book upon which it was based shortly after.


The author clearly has a unique voice. I also applaud his knack for generating tension—I ended up finishing it in about two days or so.


I found the whole thing to be a little trite—despite the novelty of a serial killer main character. It follows a few too many clichés for my taste, right down to the spoiler identity of the main antagonist at the end. And it has always irked me in these types of books how they only focus on ONE killer until they catch him. It’s like every other criminal in the area goes on hiatus until the plot’s wrapped up.
Another of my major criticisms is many of the supporting characters are a little flat.
There was ALSO a big, hokey, prophetic dream plot device which is never adequately explained.
I actually found the TV show did a better job of telling the story in most respects, even though it didn’t follow the novel’s plot exactly. Also, the tension is nice, but I found the TV show actually does this better as well–utilizing more types of tension and from different sources to keep the audience hooked in layered subplots.
And after all of this, I have to wonder whether the author understands sociopathy OR psychopathy very well. One of the major themes herein is “The Dark Passenger,” a kind of alternate personality/command hallucination that guides Dexter’s actions when he gets homicidal. It’s a bit of a cop out though to say actions are out of a character’s control because of a mental health issue–although it’s okay to let your characters believe this, letting the audience beleive it falls somewhere between lazy and ignorant–I think this theme wasn’t adressed adquately.
I ALSO found the ending to be quite unsatisfying and a little gimmicky.

I read it. But I’m not planning to read the other ones. It’s very rare that I think a motion picture adaptation actually comes out better than the book, but this is one of those cases. Dexter the show tackles almost all of my issues with the book in a better way. I have OTHER issues with the show, but I won’t go into those here, because I’m not a TV critic.

So check them both out for yourself and tell me what you think in a comment!


8 thoughts on “Darkly Dreaming Dexter

  1. I do think it’s possible for a character to be controlled by a mental illness – it’s not a cop-out if done well – but if it’s done well usually the struggle is understanding/accepting the illness and learning to control it. I’ve read some really excellent biographies and fictions along those lines.

    But the Dark Passenger sounds more like schizophrenia (or maybe MPD) than sociopathy and it is a cop-out to write a book about a serial killer and then not let him be a serial killer.

    I watched some of “Dexter” and liked it, but then I read the Wikipedia page for the books and decided against reading them. The plot gets way too weird.

    • I work with schizophrenics and one or two sociopaths and a big focus of our treatment is making sure everyone knows the illness is not who they are and does not control them.
      Yes, it makes life difficult, yes it influences decisions, and yes, sometimes it can be so severe it creates a disconnect between the person and their world, but in the end–even when they’re too psychotic to move–it is THEY who make the choices; not the disease and that’s why managing symptoms is important to having a balanced life. This was really big to stress when I was working with kids (none of whom were schizophrenic, but LOTS of whom were sociopaths) because they couldn’t claim, “I’m bipolar!” and get off probation because it was difficult for them to control their emotions. At the same time, I got to show them how they are responsible for the GOOD things in their life, as well as the bad.
      I agree; The Dark Passenger sounds more to me like it’s either a psychosis or dissociative identity disorder. But perhaps I’m taking it too literally–the book implies that it is not a psychotic symptom, so perhaps it’s meant to sound more like a conscience that tells him to do bad things instead of good. But Dexter’s lack of control is emphasized in the first book, whereas it is explored more deeply in the show.
      The show features many bits of dialogue from Dexter explaining how he’s different, but also forces him into many situations which show that he behaves just like anyone would–one of my favorites was where he was mourning the death of a family member. It creates a lovely bit of inner conflict and I think it’s why the show can be so compelling at times.

      • Hmm – I’m thinking of people having psychotic/manic episodes or bad bouts of depression. Both can cause people to act out in ways they normally wouldn’t – especially if it’s the first such episode. You’re still responsible for your behavior, in that you are now responsible for managing your disease. And you still have to accept the consequences of your behavior during an episode; in your right mind or not, it was you who did it.
        My mom has depressive and psychotic episodes and while I don’t necessarily hold her responsible for her behaviors during those episodes-though I don’t try to prevent her suffering the consequences-, I do hold her responsible for not managing her illness adequately/seeking help during stressful times, which tend to trigger such episodes. I hold her much more responsible for her episodes (which are preventable at best and can be waited out in a psychiatric ward at worst, which my parents refuse to do) than her behaviors during them.
        Of course, I imagine it’s quite different for sociopathy (and, wow, working with sociopathic kids!) but I think we’re both kinda saying that you’re responsible for managing your illness (which Dexter is not) and, at least in my view, putting yourself somewhere safe, if at all possible, when you can’t manage it. (Which, again, Dexter is not.)

        I do really like the show, at least when it’s not too gory, and I think they handle Dexter’s illness really well.

        • I agree with you, Topper–the responsibility to seek treatment lies with the patient–I think we both meant the same thing.
          One of the things I emphasize with my clients is that, while they must take responsibility for what they do, a few missteps are part of the recovery process. I think what I typed earlier sounded a little harsh, and I’m sorry for that.
          And there are actually a lot more sociopaths than you think–they do walk among us–but many of them are aware of the consequences of their actions and would prefer NOT to have to endure consequences for murder. They do try and get away with other things, though.
          One of my kids stole a smartphone from another kid at school and when his mom asked him, “Why?” the boy said, “It was a TOUCH screen!”
          Like that made it ok. He just couldn’t figure that out. I had to explain to him that, while touchscreen phones are cool, a judge would not accept that a plausible defense.

        • I think we did mean the same thing; we just phrased it completely differently! And I’m pretty sure I have a grandfather and uncle who are sociopaths-positive for the uncle, pretty sure for the granddad. I just meant that working with sociopathic kids must be particularly challenging.

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