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Lindsay goes through motions
on 9 August 2010
You sense Jeff Lindsay is quickly running out of steam just the same way his main character Dexter Morgan is.
Lindsay's "Dexter" series, which launched thrillingly under a curdled yellow moon five instalments ago, waxed quickly, reaching a crescendo with its Showtime TV serialisation which itself flourished madly and is now in its fourth or fifth series. Dexter's literary progress has been somewhat more stately, and for good reason: it's tough to know where to go with a set-up as singular as Dexter's. By instalment 3 Dexter was already presenting Lindsay with scenario dilemmas: an avenging vigilante psychopath operating under cover as a mild-mannered forensic scientist in bloodthirsty Miami (so much so Hong-Kong Phooey) - is such an improbable set up even for a one-off, let alone a series - that plot developments are inevitably constrained. After all, there are only so many times a supremely gifted and unscrupulous evil-doer can figure out Dexter's saucy secret before it becomes implausible that no-one else does.
And while, on one hand, there's not really anywhere a character like Dexter can go: he can't settle down and get married and have kids; he can't share his secret; he can't give up his nocturnal urges *and* stay interesting - on the other hand what gives these novels their dramatic impetus is precisely that Dexter sails so close to the wind that, to remain plausible as an ongoing proposition he has to do these things. Dexter's cover requires him to be close to people, and the relationships he chooses (with his adoptive sister, a girlfriend, a suspicious workmate) are by their nature volatile, that Dexter simply can't stay in suspended animation either: each novel contains a little more self-discovery, each novel somehow compels Dexter on to prosaic and dreary normalcy.
On so it is, by instalment 5 that, having exhausted other options including the freaky supernatural one (episode 3 - didn't work) Jeff Lindsay has no choice but to allow a now married Dexter (this sociopath once without a sexual, let alone romantic, tendency in his body) to become a father and start to feel the stirrings of human emotions. Which kind of defeats the point.
Each of these compromises makes the character less interesting, and oddly the same goes for the surrounding cast. Debs is muted, Chutsky barely represented (despite figuring largely in the plot), even Vince Matsuoka seems to have lost his perverted interest in what goes on. Nor does the primary antagonist, this time, have any special connection with Dexter much less special knowledge of Dexter's dastardly doings (perhaps to retain plausibility, but at the cost of piquancy), is thinly drawn and indeed isn't even introduced to the action until the final act.
And nor is there the spectre of a Sergeant Doakes or a Detective Coulter on Dexter's case and closing in for the home team, ratcheting up the tension and posing the squeamish questions for the reader (such as, "why am I pulling for a psychopathic murderer over a policeman who has correctly figured him out?").
In fairness there is a tension of this sort, introduced by the return of a character from a former instalment, but even that seems half-hearted, not enough is made of it, and it necessitates some awkward plotting, requiring Deborah to be conveniently absent or unconscious on a couple of occasions to avoid running into this chap. Now Lindsay's plotting has always been a bit thin, but daylight was showing through here and on one or two other occasions you could see significant developments (including the denouement) coming a mile off.
Lindsay's playful prose, juicy characterisation and gift for wry observations about the venality of modern life has always outstripped his plotting in any case, but even that feels careworn here: there are only so many times jokes about crazy driving on Miami freeways pay off, and the characterisation is generally flat (though there's a great running joke about Rita's incoherence). Deborah's sizzling invective of earlier novels is reduced to a habit of repeatedly punching Dexter on the arm.
In short, Dexter is Delicious feels a lot like Jeff Lindsay going through the motions. Dexter may have been delicious once, but it is all tasting a bit stale on the fifth go-round. Lindsay is a terrific writer and, for all my bearishness, this is still a much better read than most in its genre, but all the same Dexter feels depleted, dreary and dismal. It's time he were retired, so Jeff Lindsay can invent another delicious character to thrill and dazzle us.