Jeff Lindsay

Orion (2010)

ISBN: 978-1-4091-1347-8

Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack

Should you be a viewer of the television series Dexter, who has never before read one of the novels the series is based on, know this: they are very different. From the first season of the television series they diverged sharply, with characters surviving or dying in quite different combinations. So television viewers will have a few surprises if they come into the series with this, the fifth novel.

I was disappointed in the first novel, finding the plotting fairly weak and the characterisations often muddy. However, the series improved drastically with the second title. This fifth volume, Dexter is Delicious is an accomplished novel, despite some minor plot holes, and should be enjoyed by many. A particular strength is the black humor which runs through the novels (and to a lesser extent, the television series) – Lindsay appears to revel in this, seeding it through the novel generously, but not ever quite going over the top.

The background to the series is straightforward enough. Dexter Morgan is a psychopathic killer. However, his adoptive father, Harry Morgan, recognised that in him young, and unable to eliminate it, did the next best thing: he taught Dexter The Code. According to The Code, Dexter kills only those who deserve it, and must find rigorous proof to be certain. Usually, Dexter murders serial killers who can’t be dealt with through the court system – they require a different standard of proof than Dexter does. The Code also helps Dexter pass for human – it keeps him safe from detection. He is further helped by his career as a forensic blood splatter analyst for the Miami police.

As the novel opens, Dexter has become a father for the first time. Although already a step-father to his wife Rita’s children, Lily Anne is Dexter’s first biological child. And what an impact she has on him! He vows to give up killing, and to fill his world with sweetness and light for Lily Anne. But soon Dexter is torn; he’s asked to investigate the disappearance of an 18 year old girl, who appears to have been abducted by cannibals. He must make the world safe for Lily Anne! At the same time, his home life begins to teeter; his brother Brian reappears, and seems to threaten Dexter’s family – and thus his cover.

One of the reasons this series works is that Dexter is such a sympathetic character. Yes, okay, he’s a psychopath and a serial killer. And he doesn’t see himself as human or as having human emotions. But that enables him to express a lot of the emotions that we have, but don’t always feel allowed to express – like exasperation with stupid people. Dexter’s inner monologue is often hilarious, and is the thing I enjoy most about these novels. There is a particular edge to this novel, as the advent of Lily Anne allows Lindsay to explore some of the emotions of new parents – in Dexter’s usual extreme fashion. He is terrified the first time Lily Anne has to ride in her car seat. He veers between viewing the world as a blissful place full of sunshine and flowers and a terrifying hell full of things designed to hurt Lily Anne. Most people who’ve had a new baby in their lives will recognise at least some of his reactions (albeit that they’re exaggerated) – for example, his struggle with getting the car seat into the car was hideously familiar to me. Throughout the series Dexter has been baffled by certain “human” behaviours and rituals, and his bafflement highlights some of the more ridiculous aspects of human behaviour. At the same time, readers will often find themselves emotionally on the side of people exasperated by Dexter’s failure to behave as they expect.

Dexter is a murderer, and Lindsay doesn’t shy away from that. He keeps Dexter sympathetic by making it very clear that the people he kills are indeed bad people, predators of the worst kind. But when Dexter idly considers killing someone who’s simply annoyed him, we’re reminded sharply that Dexter is really quite scary. It’s really quite impressive that Lindsay can make Dexter both so appalling and so sympathetic; readers will certainly be urging Dexter on rather than hoping to see him come a cropper. Because it has a black aspect, the humor in the novel doesn’t undercut the horror of the killings and doesn’t trivialise the fact that people die horribly.

There are, as I said, a number of plot holes in the novel. It rather strains my credibility, for example, that Rita never mentions Dexter’s brother to his sister Deborah. This would result in a hideous tangle, as Brian tried to kill Deborah in an earlier novel, and Deborah, good cop that she is, would arrest Brian on sight. So Lindsay needs Rita and the kids never to mention Brian to Deborah, and consequently they don’t, although this struck me as out of character. The plot does also rely a little on Dexter’s ability to recognise another predator on sight or to guess how another will operate; although this is frighteningly convincing at times, at other times it means Lindsay can skip some of the investigation work we’d normally expect to see in a crime novel. However, these gaps are relatively minor, and on the whole Lindsay’s plotting has improved dramatically.

Although Dexter, as our narrator, is the most vivid of the characters, others also emerge strongly. Perhaps in part because Dexter doesn’t always understand humans, not all the characters are well realised (or perhaps this is a failing of Lindsay’s writing). Deborah’s new partner Deke, for example, was never more than a cardboard cutout for me. However, Deborah herself, Rita, and Rita’s kids Cody and Astor are all strongly drawn.

Fans of the mystery genre may find the sometimes loose plotting a little annoying. This novel will be thoroughly enjoyed by those who appreciate the humor of Dexter’s monologue, and by those who appreciate seeing people from a different angle. Highly recommended for readers looking for something a little off-beat and memorable.