'Dexter's Final Cut' by Jeff Lindsay - Review

via Complete Review: Beware of spoilers.  Dexter's Final Cut was published in the US just as the long-running cable series based on the Dexter books came to an end, and both the title of the novel and its first line -- part of an introductory section setting up the novel as a how-I-got-here tale -- suggest that maybe it's the end of the road for the Miami police blood spatter analyst cum serial killer here, too.

The opening scene is quickly revealed as a misdirect -- as so often in the Dexter books things aren't exactly what they seem at first -- and the reader begins the story proper comforted by the knowledge that Dexter will find himself just fine down the road, and clearly will be up to some of his usual tricks. But, of course, where there's one misdirect, maybe there are more...

The Dexter books do not follow the same story-arc as the TV series did, and it would probably be an unwise jump for the TV-fan to start in on the series here; on the other hand, readers don't have to faithfully read all six previous installments before enjoying this one.

The major development in Dexter and his wife Rita's private life here is that they're planning to move into a new house. Rita's kids, Astor and Cody -- both with that dark side to them that Dexter knows he will have to help them with if he wants to keep them from self- (and others-) destructing -- are a bit of a handful, especially the nearing-teen-age Astor; baby Lily Anne just needs the usual constant infant-care. Between the kids, the move, and her job, Rita is pretty frazzled -- and Dexter of little help, especially since the story allows him to ignore his family for long stretches here. Read more after the jump.

The story involves Hollywood coming to Miami, in the form of a Big Ticket Network pilot that they're shooting there. It's a cop show, and Dexter and his sister Deborah are enlisted to show the stars how they do their jobs, to give everything an air of authenticity. Dexter gets saddled with preening star Robert Chase, set to play the "forensics whiz" (though the actor has a problem with the sight of blood), while Deborah gets to lead around the stunning Jackie Forrest, who will star as: "a hard-as-nails woman detective".

Chase is very amusingly presented as an insecure Hollywood star, the portrayal just on the edge of cartoonish. Dexter tries his best in dealing with him, but also admits:

I found it impossible to like Robert Chase. I admit that I rarely manage to achieve the kind of warm personal bond that humans routinely forge, mostly because I do not actually have human feelings. Even so, I fake it very well; I have survived among people my whole life and I know all of the rituals and tricks of social bonding. None of them worked with Chase, and for some reason I found myself reluctant to keep trying. Something about him was wrong, slightly off, unattractive.

He's not wrong with his sense, of course, but it does take him surprisingly long to figure out what exactly is off with Chase.

Meanwhile, Dexter can find little wrong with the beautiful Jackie -- and when he gets to play bodyguard, spending the nights in her hotel room rather than with the wife and kids, he finds some pretty basic human feelings rising up in him.

Dexter has to play bodyguard because there's a nasty serial killer out there, and it quickly become clear that there's a connection to Jackie. But Deborah isn't the one in charge of the investigation into the grizzly murder that puts them on the trail of the killer, and the detective who is is entirely incompetent -- so they come up with an ingenious way of looking into the murder without going against police protocol, enlisting Dexter to help, and to watch over Jackie when she's not with Deborah.

Dexter's Final Cut is a bit unusual for the series in that Dexter's 'Dark Passenger' and his killing-lust are pretty well contained. There's a lot more mooning over Jackie than stalking bad guys, and when a bad guy needs to be dispatched it's done ... well, like little more than an errand. There's also fairly little murder for him to investigate, for the most part -- though what's lacking in body-count volume, at least at first, is made up for by the horrificness of the crimes.

A third actor from the TV show also comes into play, a tough-talking comic who Dexter is certain also carries a Dark Passenger within him (i.e. he's also a sociopath capable of anything), but for the most part Dexter is consumed with his developing relationship with Jackie, which he's not quite sure how to handle. Meanwhile, he barely even speaks with or sees Rita -- though the kids do drop by to meet the actors and go a bit behind the scenes of a TV show.

Dexter rambles along through Dexter's Final Cut without too much happening for long stretches, but it's still a fun ride because Lindsay has Dexter's patter honed so well, and it's an entertaining deadpan. There are a lot of double entendres, and Lindsay works them in remarkable well, even at their most predictable, as when Jackie and Dexter are still getting to know one another:

"There's a killer in everybody," I said.

She looked at me for a long moment. Then she picked up her glass and took a sip. "Maybe," she said. "But you seem pretty comfy with the one in you."

Focused on Jackie, Dexter does overlook some of the obvious, especially as the story comes to a head. That makes the twists that come feel a bit forced -- some of the behavior, of both Dexter and the police, seems pretty unlikely -- but they're still pretty decent twists. A bit more development here and there -- especially with regards to Dexter's family -- would have helped, but even so the story agreeably turns, both horribly and nicely. It's a pretty cold and abrupt ending, too, with Dexter left if not already hanging, so certainly dangling a bit. If Dexter's Final Cut carried on from the previous volume with little changed, the next installment -- if there is one ... -- promises quite the leap.

Not quite your typical Dexter-book -- he barely gets to indulge his Dark Passenger here -- it's still among the better volumes in the series, consistently entertaining and with some nice surprises. The plot has a few too many holes and few too many characters are too simply drawn to be entirely satisfying, but it's a good, fun read.

Grade: B

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