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Dexter in the Dark, by Jeff Lindsay
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Vintage
Published: 2008
Review Posted: 2/3/2009
Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: Not Rated

Dexter in the Dark, by Jeff Lindsay

Book Review by Mike Swope

Have you read this book?

We first met Dexter in Lindsay's Darkly Dreaming Dexter, and met him again in Dearly Devoted Dexter. Dexter is a blood spatter expert for the Miami PD. He is also a serial killer with a code instilled in him by his adoptive police officer father, Harry. The Harry Code is simple: kill those who need killing, other serial killers who prey on the innocent. Dexter's need to kill was recognized early by Harry, and so Harry trained Dexter to disguise himself as normal, to kill only other serial killers, to be absolutely certain about their guilt, and to clean up after himself so he is not caught by the police.

In this third installment, we again see Miami through Dexter's eyes. Here again is Dexter's sardonic and witty self-commentary and comedic observations about modern life. Here again we meet not only Dexter and his Dark Passenger, but Rita, his fiancee; Cody and Astor, her children; Debs, Dexter's adopted sister and police sergeant; and Dexter's other colleagues in the Miami PD.

This third book in the Dexter series finds Dexter still trying to balance the needs of his Dark Passenger with his human disguise as Dexter the soon-to-be groom. His marriage to Rita is fast approaching (the bachelor party occurred in the previous book). As far as his "normal" life is concerned, he is carried along in the whirlwind planning initiated by Rita. Though Dexter is perplexed by it all, he plays along as the groom-to-be, even meets with Manny Borque, an arrogant and expensive caterer who has appeared in magazines, to plan the meal for the wedding. Though Dexter doesn't want to spend $500 a plate for his wedding, Rita takes his conversation as approval and signs a contract in which Manny can charge any amount he likes for his services. He also takes his responsibility for Cody and Astor seriously, to be the father-figure and more. In all honesty, despite his Dark Passenger, Dexter is very good at being a fiancee and future ready-made father. His relationship with Rita and her children is the perfect model relationship. For Dexter and his Dark Passenger, it is the perfect disguise.

Of course, there are multiple intermingling plot complications which weave throughout this book and Dexter's balancing act with his Dark Passenger and his life-in-disguise. Such complications, both complementary and ironic, have become commonplace in the Dexter series, and make any book in the series hard to close and put down. It is all too easy to say to yourself, "I'll read just one more chapter before turning off the light." Of course, one more chapter just isn't enough. Lindsay does a fine job weaving and pulling it all together at the end to keep our interest and to keep us reading.

Early in this book, Dexter chooses Zander Macauley for the Dexter hall of fame. Zander, a dyed-in-the-wool trust-fund hippie, has been selecting victims from a Miami homeless shelter under the guise of helping them rebuild their lives. Of course, the ranch where he is supposed to be taking them is virtually abandoned and overgrown, unbeknownst to everyone but Dexter. Once the Harry Code is satisfied, Dexter acts and Zander himself disappears. Zander is the only victim of Dexter's Dark Passenger in this book. Does this mean that Dexter's settling into his life-in-disguise so much it is becoming his real life? We can't be sure.

As noted in my review of Dearly Devoted Dexter, the second in the book in the Dexter series, Dexter has recognized that Cody has his own Dark Passenger (Astor says nothing about the same within her, though she is every bit as interested and involved as Cody). This complication is one of the primary plot elements in this third book, carried over from the second book. Dexter has agreed to teach Cody and Astor about the Dark Passenger, as Harry had taught him. Unlike Dexter, who in his youth was passive, a vessel waiting to be filled with Harry's wisdom, Cody and Astor are eager to begin their dark education. Pushy in fact. In typical Dexter fashion, however, Dexter finds it difficult to take control of these situations, and fumbles at times about what to teach them and how. Eventually, he muddles through, however, and Cody and Astor begin their education. Dexter's first lesson: Don't get caught.

Like Cody and Astor, Debs knows that Dexter has something inside him, though she has not asked much about what it is or what it does, or what Dexter does with it. This, I think, is ignored in this book for a future book. At one point in this book, Dexter tells Debs a little about his Dark Passenger, which has been the source of his inspired insights into some crime scenes. Dexter, however, is as vague as possible, to protect Debs from that horrible knowledge. She is, after all, a police officer with a deep sense of law and justice, and knowledge of Dexter's Dark Passenger would most certainly be difficult for her, not to mention Dexter. It is interesting to note, too, that there is a parallel between the Dexter/Debs and Cody/Astor relationships. Astor knows about Cody's Dark Passenger while Debs knows something about Dexter's Dark Passenger. Perhaps Lindsay will fully explore these relationships in a future book.

The re-appearance of Sgt. Doakes is grotesque but welcome in this third book. In the last book, Sgt. Doakes was the victim of the last book's villain, and lost his tongue, feet and hands. In this third book, Doakes appears twice. He goes back to work since he has only a couple years left until he receives his pension, and the attorneys for the Miami PD feel that Doakes going back to work is in everyone's best interest under the circumstances. Doakes has been a primary antagonist for Dexter, and has his own Dark Passenger. Though he is not a serial killer, he has killed his fair share while in the military during covert ops (which serves as the catalyst for the second book) and has had several shooting incidents while with the Miami PD. The Dark Passengers in Doakes and Dexter recognized one another early on in the series, which caused Doakes to investigate Dexter, even tail him on his off hours, trying to pin something on Dexter.

Doakes reappearance takes place during a meeting about the most recent murders involving burned but headless victims. Doakes clumps into the room on his prostethic feet, looks around, glares at Dexter, then leaves. Everyone is speechless. After Doakes has clumped back down the hall, the captain comes into the room and tells everyone the belated good news about Doakes. Though surely gruesome, as related by Dexter, Daokes first appearance in this book is almost comical.

Doakes second appearance occurs when Dexter takes Cody and Astor to his office and shows them how evidence is effectively collected. Cody and Astor have been caught by Rita with the neighbor's cat duct taped to the workbench in their garage. Rita, of course, is beside herself. Dexter, on the other hand, is understanding. Though Cody and Astor can't wait to start hurting living things, and Dexter is naturally unhappy about it, Dexter is also understanding about it and promises Rita to take care of the problem. So he takes Cody and Astor to his office, scrapes stuff from the bottom of Cody's shoe (which Astor and Cody think is clean), and shows the scrapings to Cody and Astor under the microscope, and identifies cat hair, carpet from Cody's room, and other material. In this way Dexter shows them how they can be caught and how they are not yet ready to give in to their Dark Passengers.

Doakes appears at the end of the lesson, mumbling and pointing at the kids. The kids, of course, are frightened, and Cody says that Doakes sees his shadow (Cody calls his Dark Passenger his shadow). Doakes apparently understands that Dexter is doing something with the kids, especially since he has seen Cody's Dark Passenger. It is not clear, however, how much Doakes understands from the scene. He might only understand that Dexter is about to be married and be the father of the two children, or he may understand that Dexter his teaching the kids to be like him, or tutoring them because they are like him. What Doakes understands, however, is irrelevant. Readers just need to understand that Doakes is back on the job and dislikes Dexter as much as ever. That Dexter is now involved with kids is only sure to fuel that dislike and afford opportunities for future books.

Dexter himself is the catalyst for the main plot in this book when he kills Zander Macauley. Zander is a member of a secret group practicing an ancient religion dating back to biblical times, as early as the time of King Soloman. This group worships Moloch. For the purposes of this book, Moloch is real, a god who has fathered thousands or millions like him, the source of Dexter's Dark Passenger, and many, many others. These shadows are attracted to children like Dexter, Cody and Astor who have been traumatized, and possess them like demons. The Watchers, as Moloch's followers are called, allow Moloch to possess and move among them at will to watch for Moloch's dark children, and destroy them. When Dexter kills Zander, the Watchers identify Dexter as harboring one of Moloch's shadow children. When the first two burned and headless bodies appear, Dexter's Dark Passenger recognizes its father's work and symbolism, and abandons Dexter. Thus the title: Dexter in the Dark.

Dexter must learn to cope with his missing Dark Passenger throughout most of the book. Minus his Dark Passenger, Dexter is like everyone else. He even begins to feel emotions, like fear, which he has never felt before. At the same time Dexter tries to cope, he senses that he is being watched and followed. Several car chases result from his uneasiness. Dexter doesn't like being the prey in this cat-and-mouse game. Of course, it is only at the climax of the book that Dexter understands what has caused his Dark Passenger to abandon him and why.

Unfortunately, Moloch's introduction into the Dexter series changes the entire series. What was once crime fiction now moves into the genre of the paranormal. It is not a welcome or popular move with reviewers, it appears. Though this explains Dexter's Dark Passenger, it does so in an unsatisfying mystical way. Though it was not clear in the series exactly how or why people get Dark Passengers, the speculation left the answers in the satisfyingly complex, mysterious, misunderstood world of psychology and how people respond to traumatic experiences. The how or why wasn't necessarily important. Now, the answers are simple: Dexter and others like him, including Cody and Astor, are possessed by demons. An exorcism should do the trick. Of course, the shadow children of Moloch will only find another traumatized host to inhabit. A never-ending catalyst for new stories. If this is Lindsay's intention, he could have simply started a new series and left the Dexter universe alone, though readers would obviously notice parallels between the books.

I had earlier speculated about Harry's ability to correctly identify Dexter's need to kill and to carefully train Dexter to be a successful serial killer of those who need killing. It is all very neat and orderly. Though Dexter is an experienced serial killer but begins uncertainly to teach Cody and Astor the ways of the Harry Code once more makes me ask the question whether Harry was more than he seems to be. I had suggested that perhaps Harry was himself a serial killer, since he has so successfully molded and mentored Dexter. With the sure knowledge that Cody and Astor have their own Dark Passengers, and that one Dark Passenger is able to sense another, I wonder if Harry had his own Dark Passenger. Though Dexter never says that he sensed any such thing about Harry, it is certainly worth considering for readers and the Dexter universe.

Lindsay writes with great skill, and is inexplicably able to make Dexter a likable anti-hero for his readers. Part of the success of the Dexter series is Lindsay's ability to paint some truly gruesome scenes while sparing his readers from bloody, gory ultra-specific details. With Lindsay's skill and imagination, it would be an easy thing to give every little specific detail about each body that appears in the Dexter books. Wisely, however, Lindsay tempers his details with just enough information for readers to complete the scenes for themselves. This, I think, makes the Dexter series palatable for a much wider audience more interested in the intricacies, ironies and parallels of Lindsay's stories, than in death, blood and gore.

Dexter's ever-lovable wit; Cody & Astor's own Dark Passengers; damaged Sgt. Doakes reappears

Introduction of the primeval and immortal Summarian god Moloch as the father of Dark Passengers

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