One of the highlights of this year’s Brisbane Writers’ Festival on the weekend was a packed session featuring Jeff Lindsay, author of the books that have spawned the Dexter TV series.
The crowd was a mix of fans of his four books and fans of the TV series, and – obviously – those of us who appreciate both.
The man who has created one of the most morally ambiguous characters of recent times spoke about Dexter’s genesis and how important it is for readers (and viewers) to still question the nature of good and bad.
Lindsay claims the idea for Dexter came during a business group gathering of estate agents, lawyers and brokers many years ago. Sitting around listening to them network and promote themselves, he decided “serial murder is not always a bad thing” (and was possibly only half joking).
It gave him the idea of a serial killer who was sympathetic, not because of what he does, but because of who he is and the fact he acts from a position of amorality. Of course, it helps that Dexter only kills those who kill others (thanks to the foresight of his foster father Harry, a cop who saw the darkness in Dexter as a child and devised a way to channel it).
But Lindsay is very quick to point out Dexter is not a vigilante.
“A vigilante is someone who kills because someone has fallen through the cracks of the justice system and they are outraged personally and justice must be served. Dexter just likes to kill. He just happens to kill bad people because that’s the way his foster father set it up, and it works.”
Ironically, while the need for guilt is only a technicality for Dexter, it is imperative for Lindsay. “That line is important to me,” he told the weekend audience.
Lindsay has a very strong sense of justice. When talking about a young girl in his street who was raped and murdered, he momentarily dropped the wisecracks and was visibly emotional. He admitted he supported the death penalty, but only if there was no doubt of guilt - something he knew was next to impossible ... except for the fictitious Dexter.
As a reader or viewer, you can’t help but be a little unsettled at finding a serial killer likable, and Lindsay delights in shocking us with the reality of what Dexter does when he has his prey alone. While the series hints that Dexter may be more human than he believes, the books emphasise that Dexter’s humanity is a well constructed facade.
Lindsay thinks one of the reasons Dexter is so appealing is the fact he doesn’t see himself as human – only a monster good at pretending to be one. He is the voice of an outsider, allowing readers to see themselves in a different way, logically, without emotion.
The author says Dexter takes to the extreme something what we all do: fake in a relationship.
During his session on Saturday, Lindsay asked members of the audience to raise their hands if they were 100 per cent authentic with 100 per cent of the people they interacted with, 100 per cent of the time. Of course, no-one raised their hand.
“Dexter fakes all the time – but he knows he’s faking. He is very well aware of the fact he’s not a human.”
Interestingly, Lindsay hated title of the first Dexter novel, Darkly Dreaming Dexter, devised by his publisher’s marketing team. His original title was The Left of God, which was ruled out for fear it would create confusion for fans of the Humphrey Bogart film of the same name.
Lindsay’s young daughter – who hadn’t read the book but had heard enough conversations to get the gist – suggested “Pinocchio bleeds”. But while remarkably apt, it didn’t lend itself to serialisation...
While the TV series still takes its inspiration and some plot lines from the books, the two offer quite different stories and can stand alone without the other.
I’ve been a fan of the series since it started, and – now I’m reading the books – I’m enjoying the deeper (and often darker) perspective of the novels, along with Lindsay’s trademark wit and unique narrative voice.
If you enjoy the series but haven’t read the novels, give them a try.