It took me a lot longer to read this book than I thought it would when I bought it in August, and it has taken me weeks and weeks to write this review.
I came to the Dexter books through the TV series and therefore my conception of Dexter was already coloured by Michael C. Hall’s portrayal of the character. It is this, I think, that had me thinking from the first that the literary Dexter seemed a little more childlike and simplistic than I was used to. I found fault with this, at first. However, upon reflection I think that this may not be so far off the mark as I first thought. One of the consistent things about serial killers that I read is their complete lack of empathy, an obvious deficit because how else would they be able to take a human life? Or perhaps it is not a complete lack of empathy, but a severely depleted one anyway.
Having said that, Dexter in this book was much the same as he had been in the previous three books, and this time I found it so interesting, given that I had just so recently finished watching the killer season four of Dexter (pun absolutely intended!) Now a a character who murders and then dismembers his victims, one would expect a certain amount of grotesqueness in the story, yet Dexter has been surprisingly devoid of it. Therefore I must admit to some shock upon opening this book and discovering within the first two chapters some rather disgusting imagery of intestines piled in the lap of a displayed corpse, or a woman cutting off her own leg for the sake of art. That very nearly made me put the book down again, as I had done in the past. Boy am I glad I didn’t.
As it turns out this particular book delves into the extremes of art and how willing people are to embrace the otherwise unthinkable as long as it has the label art on it. It goes to far as to have Rita almost become a victim of this new killer but in the end she is saved. It was eerily close to how the end of season 4 ended and I think that made it all the more poignant.
One of the things I truly love about Dexter as a character and as a series are the moral issues and how they are dealt with. On the one had we have Harry, Dexter’s step father, who goes about telling Dexter that since he witnessed the death of his mother and therefore had a ‘dark passenger’ the best way to handle it is to channel that need into catching bad guys. Astor and Cody, Rita’s children from her first marriage, also have ‘dark passengers’ thanks to the abuse they suffered at the hands of their father and how they are under Dexter’s tutelage. Is that right? Should he and Rita not try to get the children counseling?
In this particular novel as mentioned above, the idea of art and its boundaries is also looked at. Society has become so jaded that it takes more and more to shock and impress us. So much so that in this particular novel, Dexter finds himself and his ‘body of work’ on YouTube as the new style of art. Gone are the days of Renoir, Monet, or even Picasso. Now it is all about the gory and painful.
This book, more so than the last few, discussed and showed how closely Dexter is now being watched by the very department that he works in. The series on Showtime started to do that in the second season with Doakes, and seemed to start that way with the introduction of Miguel Prado in season three, but it certainly didn’t continue that tradition. I think there was enough conflict in that season to warrant leaving that particular story thread out, but I know others disagree. In any case, Dexter was being investigated by Deborah’s partner and now it appears an agent from Internal Affairs is going to be watching him to, the former having died at the hands of the murdering artist in the climax of Dexter by Design. I personally cannot wait to see what Lindsay has next in store for my favorite serial killer.