Friday, October 12, 2007

Does DEXTER IN THE DARK Spell Lights Out for the Franchise?

Dexter is back -- or most of him is back—in DEXTER IN THE DARK: A Novel(those of you who support independent bookstores can buy it at Mysterious Galaxy), Jeff Lindsay’s latest installment detailing the brutal exploits of his charmingly witty and only half-heartless serial killer, preying and slaying by his uniquely strict if lethal Harry Code of Conduct. This newest book finds Dexter in crisis – not of conscience, of course. He doesn’t have one. But in a crisis of identity, for Dexter’s mysterious inner fiend -- that giddy playmate that guides his death-dealing and leaves him elated after bouts of marvelous moonlit mayhem –- Dexter’s Dark Passenger is absent without leave.

As if prepping for a wedding and fatherhood aren’t enough to put Dexter off his game, a peculiar crime scene with macabre theological overtones sends Dexter’s Dark Passenger scurrying away, with troubling results for Dexter and his readers. Being out of communion dulls Dexter’s normally razor instincts, humor, and murderous talents when he, and we, need them most. Once again, he attracts the attention of a very dangerous intelligence, this time with a taste for children, but don’t expect the usual combination of chase, wit, twist, and surprise. Dexter is not only in the dark, he’s down right depressed. Jeff Lindsay takes a daring departure from the optimistic mayhem of America’s favorite avenging monster, but it’s a sad, fumbling new path.

Unlike DARKLY DREAMING DEXTER(at Mysterious Galaxy) and DEARLY DEVOTED DEXTER (at Mysterious Galaxy), DEXTER IN THE DARK leaves the complex realm of psychological vagary and broken psyches to dabble in something entirely outside Dexter’s universe: theology. Sans Dark Passenger, Dexter is befuddled, frustrated, and at risk of becoming normal, with all the emotions and vulnerabilities of any normal person, yet his world turns suddenly (and unjustifiably, despite ample narrative exposition) supernatural. Just when Dexter has no powers (not insight, not humor, and the boy can’t even seem to kill), Miami is overrun with them. The sum effect is a kind of amorphous melancholy, both for Dexter and his dear readers. Little help comes from the other characters made so vibrant in previous pages – the few times Dexter isn’t shuffling around in his own empty head, he’s avoiding conversations or being himself avoided. If you crave the slay-and-play criminology twice before scribed so ingeniously by Jeff Lindsay’s pen, brace yourself for page after unfunny, derivative, ill-conceived, if-it-had-to-be-supernatural-why-couldn’t-it-be-Lovecraftian-good page.

Spoiled until now navigating two books of vicious, psychotic violence on the shoulders of a fantastically entertaining monster, this clumsy foray into Anne Rice/DaVinci Code-esque old-god theology and conspiracy is by comparison plodding, simplistic, and dull. Lindsay abandons his established finesse of raising questions without answers, of suggestion and nuance, of abrasive yet oddly loveable and infinitely entertaining characters, and instead offers an obtuse, paint-by-numbers explanation for evil which abdicates Dexter from all moral responsibility for who and what he is, for his adherence to or abandonment of the Harry Code, and ultimately advocates an incoherent pseudo-loyalty to controlled evil. If Harry had read this book, he would have killed Dexter on sight. I found myself by the end rooting for the kids to get run over, shot, or drowned. Poor Rita.

For those who enjoy the Cthulhu mythos or tales with supernatural explanations, DEXTER IN THE DARK might be a fun romp, but this reader prays, to whatever Dark Gods will listen, that Lindsay returns to the world he tells so well –- Dexter’s Miami: wickedly funny, refreshingly mortal, splendidly violent, and mildly-sociopathic.
Post a Comment