Review: Dexter by Design
So. DEXTER BY DESIGN. The fourth novel by Jeff Lindsay that follows the exploits of Deviously Deadly Dexter (if you followed our advice earlier and read the first novel, DARKLY DREAMING DEXTER, you know why we use the alliteration…and it should be fairly obvious anyway). To be quite honest, we are getting tired of the novels, and are turning more towards the Showtime Series for our Dexter fix.
DEXTER BY DESIGN is not a bad novel. Some may (mistakenly) consider it a worthy addition to the Dexter series, and an improvement over 2007’s DEXTER IN THE DARK. We understand those opinions, and prior to reading the latest Dexter novel, we too had hoped the fourth novel would get us back on-track after a decidedly…odd?…third novel. What do we mean by an odd third novel? Well, for whatever reason (With no foreshadowing we might add. Naughty Mr. Lindsay. If Dexter were an author, he would kill you for such an oversight.) Lindsay decided the third novel should be all paranormal horror. So, in the DEXTER BY DESIGN, we figured Lindsay would go further with that line of thought to make that story-line less jarring.
Well. Apparently not. And he decided to mention the events of the prior novel exactly once.
There is only one thing worse than taking your series in a completely un-foreshadowed direction, and that is going back to the way it was before without even an informative comment. The situation is like the terrible ending of the novel SPHERE by Michael Crichton. (Let’s all hold hands and say it NEVER happened! Wee! Horrible. Just horrible.) Now remember, we originally stated we thought this would be the way to go. However, after reading this fourth Dexter novel, we changed our mind. Simply put, going back to the status quo made DEXTER BY DESIGN…boring. It became…predictable. Those, dear readers, are two words the Dexter novels should never be associated with. Dreadfully Dull Dexter.
Let’s start at the beginning. Dexter and Rita are married and on their honeymoon in Paris–hooray for them. They go to the Louvre and make comments on how the “Mona Lisa” is overrated. (As an aside, Steve happened to feel the same way when he visited the “Mona Lisa” at the Louvre. You know what the “Mona Lisa” is mysteriously smiling about? The fact that she duped everyone into thinking the tiny painting was worth looking at. Take that!) The newly-married couple then go to an “exhibit” of one of those “artists” that hack into themselves and call it art. It was pure shock-value writing used to set up the displays of death that would be there to greet Dexter when he returned to Miami–but there is no connection between the “art” in Paris and the displays in Miami other than “Hey, the bodies are gonna be like THIS!” We found it heavy-handed, coincidental, and tasteless.
And then we get to the formula. Dexter goes home to Miami. Dexter sees a body at a crime-scene. It intrigues him. His sister, predictably, runs around screaming like a foul-mouthed banshee while accomplishing exactly nothing. Rita bursts into tears every four chapters or so. With five pages left, like usual, Lindsay wraps everything up as quickly and as rushed as possible. The end.
Seriously, the formula has grown stale, but we didn’t realize it until reading this novel. But you know what really bothered us? The lack of character development. This is where the TV show has pulled ahead of the novels. In the show, the characters have been growing and learning over the course of three and a half seasons. The novels? No change. Deborah is the same as she was from sentence number one in the first novel. Same with Rita. The other side characters? They may as well be cardboard cut-outs. Dexter can only carry the novels by himself for so long. There comes a point where the other characters need to exert some influence on Dexter and the flow of the novels. After all, isn’t a PoV character also a product of the side-characters? This is what the Showtime series realized after their first season, and it’s why it has been enjoyable and fresh from episode to episode.
The whole reason the Dexter novels were, to us, successful is because they were so different. With Lindsay following an easily discernible formula, that differentiating factor has been neutralized. We want Lindsay to get these novels back on track…really, we do. He (Lindsay) needs to do something different without resorting to stupidity-inducing shock value. Do we think he will come up with something original to freshen up the series? No, because he poorly executed his plan in book 3 and panicked by going back to the standard formula in book 4. In DEXTER BY DESIGN, Lindsay took some of the filler plot-lines from the TV show and used them as “new stuff” in the book. We figure he will soon continue this trend and have the fifth book follow the Second Season of the TV show where Dexter is covering his tracks from an FBI agent. At this point, Dexter feels like a paycheck generator. It makes us quite sad.
As much as it pains us to recommend (Steve is crying in the corner as we type this. Big, sad tears.), you should quit reading Dexter novels until we determine Lindsay is actually committed to writing the fantastic novels he is (or was) capable of.
DEXTER BY DESIGN is nothing more than a terribly mediocre entry into the series, and into the genre.
Recommended Age: Should you decide to ignore our advice and read this novel, 18 and up.
Language: Lots and lots.
Violence: There is a lot here, and a lot of it is disturbing in a shock-value sense. Very disappointing.
Sex: Nope. Some is alluded to with language and actions, but no descriptive scenes.
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