Dexter Morgan is a blood-spatter specialist for the Miami cops by day, and a serial killer who only kills other serial killers by night. But when a serial killer starts killing hookers in an artistic way that mirrors Dexter's own murders, Dexter doesn't want to stop him. In fact, Dexter can't wait to see his next victim displayed. Is it just Dexter's imagination, or is the killer trying to communicate with him through his "art?" Or, could Dexter somehow be unconsciously committing these crimes himself? The end has a really good twist.
One of the many amazing things about this novel is that Lindsay gets us to sympathize with, and even admire Dexter, a serial killer. In this novel Dexter's urge to kill is treated like any other uncontrollable craving (like for chocolate or potato chips, say), in that Dexter can only keep from killing people by exerting superhuman self-restraint. (Dexter underwent a terrible trauma as a child that he can't remember - his need to kill is linked to this incident). Harry, Dexter's foster father, and a cop, recognizes these urges in Dexter as a teenager, when Dexter kills neighborhood cats in a ritualistic way. Instead of locking Dexter away in a psychiatric ward, the hardened cop gives him some very unconventional advice: there are people out there who deserve to be killed, and Dexter should find those people and use them to satisfy his needs. He teaches Dexter how to find and research bad people, track them, and kill them without leaving any forensic evidence. Though Harry has been dead for years before the beginning of this novel, Dexter has always followed his rules, and has never been caught. That is, until he sees this new killer's work...
Another unique aspect of this novel is Dexter's lack of emotions. He has none, but has become a master of faking them. This makes the scenes between Dexter and his girlfriend (who for other reasons is just as uninterested in sex as he is, making her the perfect cover), and LaGuerta, the lead homicide detective who has a crush on Dexter, extremely fresh and interesting. He's a more personable and comical Hannibal Lector, and some parts of this novel are a bit reminiscent of Red Dragon, but with a lighter tone. For example, Dexter's foster sister Deb is sick of dressing up like a hooker to work Miami's vice beat - she desperately wants into homicide. She gets her chance with the serial hooker killings, and Dexter gives her clues and insights into the killer to help her solve the crimes and impress her superiors (sort of like Lector and Graham). Of course, he can't give her too much information, lest she become suspicious of Dexter or actually catch the killer, whom Dexter isn't sure he wants caught.
Dexter's world is fully developed, (his job, his family and love life, and his murders), and there is truly never a dull moment. Lindsay writes with tension and humor, and perfectly sets the scene for the second in the series, Dearly Devoted Dexter, which I plan on reading as soon as it comes out in paperback.
Publishing Industry Gossip: Jeff Lindsay is not the debut novelist that his publisher (Doubleday) wants us to believe, but a veteran author who has written a number of novels under his full name, Jeffrey P. Lindsay. This use of a pseudonym raises questions about the value of touting a novel as a "debut novel" - or were Jeffery P. Lindsay's previous novels really that unremarkable? Here's an interesting tidbit:
"Darkly Dreaming Dexter was dropped from the Mystery Writers of America's Best First Novel category after the group learned that Lindsay had, according to MWA rep Margery Flax, "put out a few books under his full name in the mid '90's"
And more general remarks...
"Aside from the marketing advantage of becoming a debut author with the use of a pseudonym, David Montgomery, editor of the Web site mysteryink.com, assumes some authors are forced into hiding their identity in order to get published. Publishers often turn away a previously published author with a less-than-compelling sales history because his book might stumble getting into the chains."
Montgomery later notes, "it's a disappointing trend (disguising veteran novelists as debut novelists) - and not a particularly honest one - but as long as the readers don't care, and I don't think they do, it's probably here to stay."
-Quotes taken from the March 13, 2006 issue of Publishers Weekly.