BOOK REVIEW: Dexter Does Daddy

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

Thriller author Jeff Lindsay first introduced the world to Dexter Morgan in 2004, in Darkly Dreaming Dexter. To the surprise of the novel's readers, they found Dexter to be a good-looking, charming man with a quick wit, a pleasing demeanor, a nice day job with Miami's police department, and a serial penchant for slicing up heinous villains by the light of the moon — his internal "Dark Passenger" riding shadowy shotgun.

Readers also found themselves surprisingly sympathetic to Dexter's persistent worries of discovery of his clandestine activities. What great tension! Thus arose one of the more entertainingly conflicted and oddly appealing protagonists in contemporary literature since the grotesquely pathetic Ignatius J. Reilly, with his pyloric valve closures, tooted his angst-ridden way through John Kennedy Toole's Confederacy of Dunces.

Now, in Dexter Is Delicious, the recently released fifth book in the best-selling Dexter series, the author challenges his readers with a new spin on Dexter's dichotomous character: Having carefully crafted a self-preserving masquerade of a marriage, accompanied by two step-children, Dexter is confronted by a fatherhood-induced urge to forsake his soulless predator and get in touch with his heretofore absent humanity.

It's quite a leap for fans who have delighted in reading Dexter's creepy musings — and for those of Showtime's hit series "Dexter," based on Lindsay's protagonist. Suddenly Dexter is toying with the idea of giving up the "Harry Path" his dear departed adoptive father had set him on, a clever and loving accommodation intended to properly channel Dexter's sociopathic core. And his Dexter-Bad vs. Dexter-Dad conflict persists throughout the novel: Does he heed the Dark Passenger's slithery demands to be true to his murderous nature or answer the sweet clarion call to move toward the light of his newborn biological daughter, Lily Anne?

Dexter's sometimes third-person internal discourse provides pages upon pages of monstrously funny debate and rationalizing, sure to please the most diehard fan.

Consider this excerpt:

"The girl in the Everglades had been barbecued, and for some reason that troubled me a great deal. ... I could almost smell the cooking flesh, and that drove all thoughts of 'ropa vieja' and lunch completely out of my head. Was this the way life was going to be from now on? How could I do my job if I felt actual human empathy for the victims I saw every day? Worse, how could I stay on a job that came between me and lunch?"

And this one:

"People can change — wasn't I was already changing, right before my very eyes? I had already had an emotion and a smile; anything was possible."

Indeed, in the world of Dexter, even finding the comforting banality in a murderer's life is par for the course — as is a touch of envy:

"I flipped through my file and found his name: George Kukarov. He lived on Dilido Island, a very nice Beach address not too far from his club. A handy commute for work and play: balance the books, hire a DJ, kill the dishwasher, and home for dinner. I could practically see it — a lovely setup, so clean and convenient that it almost made me envious."

But the possibility of doing away with the killer is squelched by Dexter's persistent dilemma.

"The thought of Lily Anne drifted in, and now the moonlight was not so bright, and the whisper of the blade faded. And the raven of Dexter's newborn self croaked, 'Nevermore,' and the moon went behind the silver cloud of Lily Anne, the knife went back in its sheath, and Dexter came back to his small suburban life as Kukarov skittered away into freedom and continued wickedness."

The answer to Dexter’s conundrum is postponed by Lindsay's chewy tale of cannibalism amid the pastel landscape of Miami Beach, and by the intrusion into Dexter's well-constructed fakery of a decidedly unwelcome blast from the past. True to form, Lindsay jostles the reader from one plot twist to the next, rarely dropping an unresolved detail in his wake (the book is too much fun to fret over never knowing whose blood was splashed across the first crime scene). And in the end, the reader is left wondering along with Dexter, what to do? How goes a deftly calculating serial killer, deeply in love with his baby, determined to be the closest thing to human he can be for her, and intimately cognizant of the world's evils that put her existence at risk?

Of course, you'll have to read Dexter Is Delicious for the resolution — and you'll find it a tasty treat.

Crossposted at the North County Times.