Dexter Morgan is the eponymous hero of the Showtime series, Dexter, and of two books Darkly Dreaming Dexter and Dearly Devoted Dexter. He's a forensic blood spatter analyst with the Miami/Dade Police Department, charming, affable, a devoted son to his adoptive father Harry Morgan (now deceased), who was his mentor in law enforcement, a perfect brother to fellow cop sister Deborah, a real saint for befriending Rita, a domestic-violence survivor, and her family, and a perfect gentleman, with red-gold hair, an easy smile, a ready wit and a love of wordplay. He loves children, Philip Glass, fishing, guyabara shirts, Cuban sandwiches, and doughnuts, and has read unusually widely in the humanities for someone in a highly technical field. He lives alone in a modest, metrosexually neat, apartment on a canal in Coconut Grove, and owns a Boston Whaler, The Slice of Life.
At least when he's not a serial killer.
Because of an early, unknown childhood trauma, and as has happened consistently since puberty some time during the waxing moon he'll begin to have strange sensations. Light will seem brighter, sounds more acute, and he'll become unaccountably restless, as he begins to feel "the Need", a nearly unstoppable hunger to kill, which is accompanied by messages from a second, extremely violent, but non-verbal personality who he characterizes as a shadowy Dark Passenger, communicating in grumbles and laughter while his main personality "drives the car". Finally, giving over his conscious will at the full moon, he will stalk, immobilize, and dismember his prey alive in an ecstatic ritual, which has over the years refined itself from adolescent experiments with animals to an elaborate process involving a specially fitted kill room and a variety of well-honed sharps. While this ritual serves a cathartic function for Dexter, he constantly refers to himself as "an unfeeling monster" and considers himself "empty" and "non-human", precluding any emotional content for this ritual, and although the experience is couched in the language of primal Dionysian trance, his self-examination leads only back to better methods of killing and basic atheism. In his stream of consciousness narrations, he often speaks disparagingly of the New Age (although he likes the music of Philip Glass).
His adoptive father, Harry, early recognized his tendencies, and, rather than sending the boy to an institution, taught him how to channel his feelings away from dogs and random annoyances to fellow killers, and trained him, as only a cop would know how, how to plan for and clean up after a kill. He also taught him to keep no souvenirs ( however, he keeps a single drop of blood from each human), to select only the worst of humanity as victims, and above all maintain a cover of flawless, sunny, clean, healthy normalcy. These rules are referred to by Dexter as "The Code of Harry", and held sacred. So it is that he presents a face of glib, shallow geekiness to his coworkers: every woman from the sweet old Irish file clerk to his overbearing, ambitious Cubana boss Lt. Maria Lugerta finds him a sex god, his buddies Angel 'No Relation' Batista and Vince Masuka figure him to be just another Floridian good-old-boy, and only one older cop, Sargeant Doakes, finds him "creepy".
However, there are chinks in his emotional armor: he's fiercely loyal to his adoptive family, and in particular, he's extremely fond of and protective of children. While he considers his relationship with Rita simply a piece of camouflage, his regard for her children Astor and Cody is real. (Conversely, crimes against children invoke his special wrath at the kill.) Although basically asexual, he's been an erotically sensitive and potent lover with Rita, who (at least in theory) is equally sexually chilly. These, along with other indications, lead me (at least) to suspect that no, the gentleman doth protest too much, methinks, and that his Nick Chopper's breast contains a real heart (although he might argue for the thalamus), unfortunately, he identifies far too much with his diagnosis to see this.
Michael C. Hall, no stranger to funereal matters, portrays this charming sheep-in-wolf-in-sheep's clothing in a manner worthy of great antiheroes Raffles and Harry Lime : his often-ambiguous facial expressions, borderline-manic bursts of inappropriate enthusiasm, and affectless speech patterns give Dexter the look of someone you might know, but not too well, while doing a credible job of dealing with his darker side (watching him go seamlessly from "normal" to deranged to impassively emotionless is hypnotic). The scenes of his wetwork are creepy, but tastefully done, and more low-key than in print: while in the books, Dexter's kills are described in post-psychedelic rapture, on screen, his anticipation and planning looks like lethally erotic housework, while the actual work in the kill room is carried out in the serene calm of a man carrying out an elaborate, but satisfying home improvement project. The TV version follows and expands upon the first novel, Darkly Dreaming Dexter, with at least one kill per episode (as opposed to two in the whole book), while he and the rest of Miami/Dade hunt down the Ice Truck Killer, another serial murderer whose MO is uncomfortably like Dexter's own. The supporting characters have also been beefed up, a few stray ends trimmed, and a few extra turns of the screw thrown in, and it's been hinted that the ending might be somewhat different from the book (one of the biggest schisms in Dexter fandom is between people who've read the book and those who insist that to do so is to spoil the suspense).
While related to the short-lived Profit, Manhunter the original Red Dragon and to Miami Vice itself, the feeling is casual and strangely humanistic: Nosferatu to Michael Mann's Caligari. Unlike Miami Vice, which tended to portray Miami as a well-scrubbed tropical postmodern Everycity (with an synthesizer soundtrack and alligators), this Miami is agreeably grimy, hot and sweaty, with salsa music, the smell of grease and cumin and industrial effluvia, the glitter of the Deco district and the grit of tacky motels, the cool whiteness of crisply pleated linen shirts, the warm feeling of skin everywhere and the chaos of a culture in an extreme state of cross-fertilization.Like Hannibal Lecter and to an extent, Monk, Dexter is in large part defined by his compulsions, however, a good two-thirds of the books (and about three-quarters of the TV series) is about his "mundane" life: while he wisecracks, carries out elaborate plans, experiences exotic states of mind, and drops advanced cultural references, he's also an ordinary Joe who gets up and goes to work in the morning to pay the bills, and it's this interpenetration of the domestic and the demoniac that forms a great deal of the dramatic tension in the stories.
Either way, I'd check it out: a third novel is in the works, a fourth is planned, and amateur cultural theory buffs (like me!) are looking forward to a winter of dissection of our own...