I’m still reading the final book for the review essay I’m writing, but that hasn’t stopped me from reading books for fun too. This past week I read Jeff Lindsay’s 2004 novel Darkly Dreaming Dexter. I first became interested in the book because of the new Showtime series. Even though the series is really good, I can’t watch it — it gives me bad dreams. But I can totally read about the subject matter without much ill effect.

The novel is about Dexter, a lab technician for the Miami police department, who also happens to be a serial killer. He’s a “good” serial killer: he’s good at it and he only kills people who commit murder and get away with it, usually other serial killers.

I love that this novel (and the series) turns the typical detective novel on its head. The detective is not a police officer or a little old lady who enjoys gossip or a fussy Belgian; he’s a killer who’s been trained by his foster father to channel his dark energy for good. (I should say that I love these sorts of novels; it’s kind of like my fascination with watching documentaries about snakes: I hate snakes, I know I’m going to have nightmares after watching a snake documentary, but if I see one on tv I can’t help but become entralled by the horror. That’s what reading really bloody contemporary crime fiction is like for me!)

Over the course of the novel, Dexter meets his match, the ice truck killer who kills and dismembers prostitutes and leaves a special calling card: he drains their bodies of blood before dismembering them. Seeing him as an artist, Dexter is torn about whether he should pursue this killer and stop him or join him. Overall, this novel is fast-paced, the characters are drawn well, and it’s suspenseful and engrossing; I could hardly put it down. I really liked it.

Since it is now a series, I do want to compare the two just enough to say that the series, which is based on the book, is not an exact adaptation. That would have been little more than a made for tv movie. Here are the opening credits for the series; I think they’re brilliant. They make breakfast seem so disgusting!

The series adds characters and subplots while subtracting other elements, most notably a real sense of Dexter’s love of killing and mental instability. In the novel, he suspensefully totters on the edge of the rules his foster father made for him; on tv, he’s a likeable good guy who lives by a fairly clear creed. I like the series and wish I could watch it without any side effects, but I think they lose something by making Dexter, played wonderfully by Michael C. Hall, so likeable.

The book is both more suspenseful and more straightforward than the series. It’s not quite as good as Patricia Cornwell‘s first couple of Kay Scarpetta novels, but it’s definitely a good read, if you’re into that sort of thing.