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In this second book, we find Dexter trying to fit into a normal life as conventionally as he can to squelch Sergeant Doakes suspicions about him. His relationship with Rita continues. He plays hide-and-seek with Rita's son and daughter and other kids in the neighborhood. After work, he goes to his Rita's house and drinks a beer or two, like he thinks most boringly normal men do after work. He kisses Rita dramatically at her door when he arrives and when he leaves. These things are for Sergeant Doakes' benefit, who has begun to relentlessly stake out Dexter when the novel opens. Though his reasons are nefarious, Dexter genuinely takes some pleasure in these activities with Rita and her kids. By the end of the book, Dexter's relationship with Rita develops inexplicably (for Dexter anyway) into an engagement. This "normal" life for Dexter is a direct result of the lessons he learned from Harry, his adoptive police officer father, and introduced in the first book.
The heart of this second book, however, is not Dexter. In this sequel, Dexter is more witness than participant. While Sergeant Doakes investigates Dexter, another serial criminal appears in Miami. This perpetrator drugs his victims and, with a mirror on the ceiling so they can watch, surgically dismembers and disfigures them one piece at a time. He does not kill them, however. He keeps them alive as he does his work. He skillfully cuts off their fingers, arms, legs, genitals, eyelids, ears, and other body parts. He even cuts out their tongues. When his work is complete, all that is left is a featureless human torso and head which cannot walk, talk, or move in any meaningful way. The first victim is found howling like a dog, having gone insane! This is the most gruesome methodology found in either book. It is difficult to imagine what this must be like. Thankfully, Dexter recognizes that death must be preferable for these victims and does not condone this methodology, though he finds it interesting, of course. As we do as readers.
Sergeant Doakes figures large in this second book. Though Doakes and Dexter are nothing alike at first scrutiny, Lindsay shows us that at closer scrutiny they are more alike than we suspect. Dexter early on compares himself and Doakes to a superhero and archenemy. Dexter apparently is handsome, dimpled and attractive, like a superhero should be. At his engagement party an inebriated Camilla Figg, a co-worker who has hardly spoken three words to Dexter, propositions him in no uncertain terms. Dexter is also humble, another important superhero trait. He does not consider himself either attractive or unattractive. On the other hand, Sergeant Doakes is huge and muscular, and holds the department's record for the bench press. For many women, Doakes physique would make him attractive. He is a veteran and has been involved in several questionable fatal shootings while with the Miami PD.
Inevitably, Doakes and Dexter recognize something about each other. As in the first book, Dexter's Dark Passenger is able to recognize others with Dark Passengers, too. Somewhere behind Doakes' great anger lurks an echo of a chuckle from his own Dark Passenger. Not the same thing as Dexter's Dark Passenger, but a similar beast. Dexter recognizes that Doakes is a stone cold killer. For Dexter, this recognition should lead to sharing a cup of coffee. Instead, it leads to Doakes strong dislike of Dexter, and Dexter's persecution. As much as Doakes would like to get rid of Dexter, out of necessity Dexter must rid himself of Doakes or his extra-curricular activities will be revealed.
The opportunity for Dexter to rid himself of Doakes arrives in due course during the investigation of the new criminal in Miami. Doakes is wrapped up in the investigation as one member of a military team who served covertly in El Salvador together. Torture and murder were part of their protocol. When the team was pulled, they left one behind to answer for their activities. This man is the new serial criminal, torturing those who left him behind to be imprisoned and tortured by the enemy in their stead. Kyle Chutsky, a special investigator from Washington who takes over the investigation, is also one of the members of this team. One by one, the other members of this team are captured and tortured. Kyle, who is supposed to be very, very good, is captured and disfigured, but rescued before the work can be completed. He is only missing half an arm and half a leg. Doakes, on the other hand, is likewise captured but not so lucky. He has lost his tongue, hands and feet. This state of affairs, of course, frees Dexter from Doakes' grasp. After all, Doakes cannot tell anyone his suspicions about Dexter. This makes Dexter decidedly happy.
Despite the interesting plot for this second book, the significant differences between the two books are somewhat disappointing. The psychological tension between characters and the histories of those characters in the first book, and all the things that they richly suggest, are gone. In their place is a much more conventional novel that reveals why Sergeant Doakes has a hard-on for Dexter, and a means by which Dexter can eliminate Doakes. This, unfortunately, makes the second book less satisfying than the first. This second book suffers the fate of most sequels, whether print, television or the big screen. The fire of first inspiration has been spent.
Though not as powerful as the first book in regard to psychological depth, this sequel is still a worthy successor. This second book shares many characteristics with the first, not the least of which is the use of current knowledge about serial criminals. While Dexter tries to be as boringly dull and routine as possible to discourage Doakes, he also has to quell his Dark Passenger, whose needs during this time aren't as urgent as usual. It is as though Dexter's meaningful interaction with the people around him also quiets his Dark Avenger for a time. It also suggests that his Dark Passenger can be brought into submission. This contradicts society's belief at large that serial killers can't control their urge to kill. Part of the irony, of course, is that professional profilers understand and convict serial offenders on the basis that they choose to do what they do; they are not compelled to serial crime. They are able to calculate and choose when and where to commit their crimes. It is an important distinction. In this way, Lindsay continues the tradition of the first by using contemporary professional ideas to develop his story.
As in the first novel, Lindsay also leaves some highly suggestive, unexplained and undeveloped loose ends. Perhaps the most consequential undeveloped situation in this book is the knowledge that Cody, Rita's six-year-old son, has done something to the neighbor's dog, who was always knocking over their trash, pooping in their yard, and once tried to bite him and his older sister, Astor, while she watched. This apparently isn't the only episode, either. Cody is the boy and likes that sort of thing, Astor explains to Dexter. Together, now, they share a small but horrible secret, and Dexter thinks that Cody has his own Dark Passenger, and that he can help Cody. At this confession, Dexter feels an echo from Harry rolling through his bones, when Harry told Dexter the exact same thing. Once more I have to ask, did Harry learn his code from experience and in turn teach them to an impressionable Dexter? This question, and a curiosity to see if Lindsay develops the situation with Cody and Astor, is enough to entice this reader to purchase and read the next book.
Our favorite serial killer with ethics, consistent writing style, and characteristic Lindsay ironies & wit
Not as psychologically engaging as Darkly Dreaming Dexter
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