Darkly Draeming Dexter is the first in Jeff Lindsay’s series of Dexter novels that have since been adapted into a successful TV series. The novel (and indeed all subsequent novels) are, on the one hand, straightforward whodunnits, but with one rather ingenious difference. Dexter, a police department pathologist, who – along with his police officer foster sister – solves the case of a serial killer on the loose, is in fact a serial killer himself. Dexter’s own homicidal tendencies are portrayed as an illness, brought about through a traumatic early childhood ordeal which has left him unable to relate emotionally to other human beings. Dexter’s occasional urges to go and murder someone are irresistible, but in spite of everything Dexter is basically a good person who has been brought up with a strong moral compass. So, powerless is he is to resist his urge to kill that he always makes sure that his victims are deserving (usually murderers and rapists themselves), and since he is ultimately a power for good, he is protected by those around him who share his secret, even though they are simultaneously upholding the law.
Of course, I could write about how this device illuminates the ambiguities and contradictions in our own moral positions and that of society at large. The device, however, allows for something else – it allows for comedy (and this is at times a deeply funny book, if you like ypour comedy dark) without trivialising the violence or turning the police into buffoons. It’s a clever premise that works well for Lindsay.