The mind of a serial killer is a fascinating thing. And the mind of Dexter Morgan is like a delicious trifle that I feel compelled, by the rumblings of a hungry gut, to dig in to, dissect and explore in the hope of finding hidden treasures. Jeff Lindsay’s character has spawned a cult following of readers and viewers. The TV adaptation of Lindsay’s series stars the brilliant Michael C Hall as the killer we love to love. With Harry’s code under his belt and the convenient cover of good-humoured blood-spatter specialist for the Miami PD, Dexter grows into his role as the Dark Defender, as he efficiently and methodically scours the scum from Miami’s streets. Lindsay’s Dexter series, currently comprising five novels, is far darker and more disturbingly gruesome than the television production. Television can only get away with so much whereas an author has far more scope and leeway for imagination excess. Nonetheless, the essence of Dexter is well captured by Michael C Hall in the Showtime production, as is the witty satire and dark comedy that permeates Lindsay’s books. The notion of a man trying to appear normal in a society that is pretty much anything but normal exposes the idiosyncrasies of human nature in many a hilarious moment.
I am currently two seasons and three books up to date and am itching for more. In Dexter in the Dark Lindsay attempts to answer a question that he poses in his first novel Dearly Devoted Dexter. Why does Dexter kill? What drives his bloodlust? Dexter refers to his Dark Passenger – a voice that guides his thoughts, and most importantly his desire to kill. I have always thought of the Dark Passenger as demon possession and Dexter in the Dark proves me not far wrong. Dexter encounters a string of murders that send his Dark Passenger into hiding, forcing him to confront the nature of his murderous desires. Can he kill without the familiar voice urging him on? Dearly Devoted Dexter revealed that the Dark Passenger, or Shadow, enters victims who have experienced extreme trauma, usually at a young age. Early on in the series, the reader is confronted with Dexter’s past: the brutal and gruesome murder of his mother in front of toddler Dexter is certainly traumatic enough to elicit the interest of the Shadow that now dwells in Dexter. This revelation precedes Dexter’s discovery that Cody, son of girlfriend Rita, is the host of his own Dark Passenger, which has been enticed by the boy’s childhood trauma of living in an abusive household. So we know why Dexter and Cody have passengers but what are these passengers?
In Dexter in the Dark Lindsay proposes an interesting view on the nature of the mind of a serial killer, albeit somewhat ideologically inconsistent. The author draws on biblical history to explain the origin of Dexter’s passenger and yet simultaneously relies on the process of evolution to describe the passenger’s quest to find an adequate host. So the idea of an all-powerful Creator is a no-no but the demonic gods of the bible are a yes-yes. And I can’t yet quite work out whether Lindsay is trying to render Dexter blameless. Dexter is unable to kill without the presence of his Dark Passenger and clearly he is not responsible for the trauma he experienced as a child. So is the Dark Passenger the culprit and is Dexter thus absolved of responsibility? Interestingly, Dexter starts to experience human responses and ’emotions’ in the absence of his Shadow. He feels fear, anger and confusion, and acts erratically and impulsively. This is not the logical Dexter who functions within a vacuum void of emotional experience and comprehension. Without his passenger he is almost human. He is no killer. Season two of the TV series unearths a point of contention that runs in a similar vein to the aforementioned point. It tries to make a distinction between Dexter’s animal urges and his emotional responses. When Dexter desires sex it is based on a primitive desire, a physical response to his body’s demands that is similar to the need to eat. Yet in Lindsay’s novels Dexter never desires sex, he merely goes through the motions to appear normal. Brain strain. The deeper into the Lindsay’s fiction one delves the more complicated and delicate Dexter and his life become. And boy, I can’t wait to delve.