Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Dexter is Delicious; albeit not in any way tasteful

Just now a friend suggested that since I was both hungry and surrounded by idiots, I could solve both problems by eating them. Like most advice, it was wretchedly impractical, not least because idiots are fatty and unappetising, and it would take far too long to cook one to the point where it was in any way palatable.

Still, it reminded me that I'd been meaning to say something about the last Dexter book but one, Dexter is Delicious, which is all about cannibals, to the extent that Dexter books are about anything other than Dexter's obsession with his own magnificence. Yes, let me rephrase. Tucked in and around the corners of the unending love story between Dexter and, well, Dexter, there's yet another improbably mass murder mystery stalking Miami, this time involving people who like to eat people.

Dexter is Delicious is the fifth book Jeff Lindsay has written about Dexter Morgan, and there's a sixth somewhere tucked around the third floor ops room if I can ever move myself off the sofa and look for it. I have to admire Lindsay for continuing to write the books; the first two got him a TV deal and a show which is now improbably in its seventh season. On the one hand, Lindsay never needs to do anything else again other than figure out how big a room he needs to store the royalty cheques, and on the other hand, it's got to be tough to keep working away at a character on the page when the TV show has taken the same character, made it three dimensional and ridiculously charming and then run off all over East Jesus in directions that have nothing to do with your original plan. 

I have to admire Lindsay for plugging away at it, but I don't have to admire all the books. Dexter is Delicious isn't that bad, actually, compared to Dexter in the Dark, the third book. The first two books had been pretty good, but the third one lost the plot in a big way, dragging the supernatural in by the ears and then not being very sure what to do with it. That whole angle got dumped sharpish in the somewhat less odd but otherwise unremarkable Dexter by Design, and I think it's pretty safe to say I wouldn't have bought any more Dexter books at that point were it for the fact that they tend to be discounted, and that I keep hoping that Lindsay will find his mojo again and amuse me the way he did with the first book (I like to think that if Lindsay is reading this blog entry he is very sanely thinking "Pah. He paid for the books, all of them. Let him hate, I've got his money. Also, bwahaha!" ). 

I'm not sure that Lindsay ever saw Dexter as a long running character; Darkly Dreaming Dexter gave us a very memorable anti-hero, but didn't exactly cry out for a sequel. Except that we live in a time where anything that makes money has to be done again and again until all the fun is flogged out of it. The initial notion is a good one; a serial killer who only kills people even more despicable than he is. And in the first book, Lindsay's deadpan self-aware narrator is a sly and crafty voice (it's perfectly captured by Michael C Hall in the first season of the TV show when some of the other other cops are talking about a vigilante killing of some scumbag and say they'd like to shake the killer's hand. "Ah, you say that now." muses Dexter to himself, and in that one line delivery Hall perfectly conveys a man who knows he's beyond redemption and isn't too bothered about it so long as no-one catches up with him any time soon). 

One problem is that archness gets tired after a while, and five books in, Dexter is starting to sound almost camp. The other problem is that Miami's supply of people who are actually worse than Dexter has crossed the line into ridiculous some time back; if there were actually enough lunatic killers running around Miami to keep Dexter as busy as he is, Somalia would be sending Florida peacekeepers. The TV show dodges some of the bigger problems of Dexter; in the books Lindsay doesn't make any bones about the fact that Dexter doesn't just kill people; he carves them up slowly over the course of the night, taking his time over it. There's only so much time you can spend hanging out in the head of someone who does that before the joke starts to turn sour. The show ducks this issue by having Dexter kill everyone quickly and cleanly, so it's not too challenging to come up with plausible fiends who are worse than Dexter, but Lindsay's really loading the bases against himself over the long run.

Hence the frankly daft front plot of Delicious, which is built round the notion of a batshit bananas cabal of freaks who like eating people, and just for the sake of upping the weirdness quotient, have tripped over a couple of people who want to be eaten, which is like, not weird at all. Anyhow, pretty much nothing to do with that makes a button of sense, and it mostly functions as a distraction from more interesting things, like whether Dexter having a new baby daughter will make him a reformed character (don't be stupid) and whether his sister will ever find love (again, don't be stupid) and finally, just what the hell his even-worse-than-Dexter brother Brian, last seen limping off scene to - apparently - die at the end of an earlier book, is playing at. Dexter's reaction to his brother trying to be a loving uncle provides most of the real fun in the book, before he comes in for the big finish and left me quietly dreading what might come next.

I've complained before about the problem of serialised detective characters needing to do horrible things, and conveniently having a complete sociopathic but weirdly effective best friend who will mysteriously do the horrible thing so that we can go on liking the hero and even adore him for having such a wide range of interesting friends. I've got a sinking feeling that in the sixth book, I'm going to see Lindsay roll out Brian in the role of the guy who does things that even Dexter can't quite bring himself to do. I may wait for the New Year to nerve myself up to that.

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