When a living writer turns his work over to Hollywood, a lot can go wrong with the story and with the characters — and that includes their gender, race and the story’s setting. Eventually, what emerges onscreen is only distantly related to what the author originally wrote or what he or she intended.
So when I heard that Jeff Lindsay’s uniquely evil and paradoxically well-intentioned character, Dexter Morgan, was going to turn up as a series on Showtime, I was prepared to be underwhelmed. After all, what’s there to love about a blood-spatter expert who moonlights as a serial killer?
I’m here to say I was wrong. I love the series. I love the way the cast of damaged characters in the books is realized onscreen in all their Hawaiian-shirted splendor. I love the abrupt changes between light and dark in Dexter’s chilling commentary on a world he doesn’t understand but tries manfully to navigate. I love the bright colors of Miami juxtaposed with the unremitting darkness of murder and mayhem.
All of which means a funny thing happened on the way to Lindsay’s new book, “Dexter Is Delicious” — the TV version became a hit, and Season 5 starts Sunday. So I felt a little wary when I picked up the book because I was afraid Lindsay would have allowed his vision of the characters and his ever-vigilant vigilante to be detoured or clouded or even unduly influenced by the ones on the TV screen.
I shouldn’t have worried. Lindsay’s original, cockeyed view of the world is alive and well and utterly uncorrupted by Hollywoodese in his latest novel.
Yes, it’s a bit of a shock to discover that some of the TV series’ characters who died last season or the season before are back among the living between the covers of Lindsay’s new book. Rita, Dexter’s long-suffering wife who died a terrible death in a bathtub in last year’s season finale, is alive and well and having a baby in “Dexter Is Delicious.” But my advice to readers is this: Don’t quibble. Get over it. After all, fiction is an alternate universe to begin with, and Lindsay’s dark, comedic fiction is an alternate universe once removed.
As Dexter stands in front of the hospital nursery window, staring with unaccustomed adoration at his newborn daughter, he is determined to put his dark side firmly in the past. And even as he glows with newfound lightness of being, the reader knows that, inevitably, our blood-spatter analyst will get dragged out of the pink cloud of amazement in the nursery and back into serial killer mode soon enough.
Gory? Yes. Appalling? Absolutely! Funny? Amazingly so!
Beset by an attack of family values — thanks to the newborn baby, cantankerous older children, a smarmy long-lost brother and his moody, damaged sister who’s also a detective — Dexter is pulled into the case of two missing teenagers from an elite school. One or both of them may have been kidnapped and slaughtered. Hoping to make the world a safer place for the two missing girls as well as for his baby daughter, Dexter goes along with the program.
The more Dexter tries to find his place in a world filled with equal parts savagery and the milk of human kindness, however, the worse it gets for him and the less he understands. And his valiant attempts to live up to his newfound role as Dexter-Daddy nearly kill him. Lindsay’s seamless transitions between light and dark — you can’t get darker than human cannibalism — and between funny and horrifying are as jarringly effective in written form as they are in film.
In other words, “Dexter Is Delicious” is exactly that — darkly delicious and fun. Now, where did I put my TV Guide?
Jance is the author of many bestselling mysteries, including, most recently, “Queen of the Night.”