“Don’t be seduced by Dexter”, says Jeff Lindsay, creator of the charming police scientist who hunts down and slices up serial killers in his spare time. He was never meant to be a crime-fighting hero.
“Some believe that Dexter cares about justice. Dexter doesn’t care about justice, he cares about killing,” said Lindsay. But then again, “he’s attractive because he’s dangerous.” Lindsay came to this Mediterranean port city to attend Marseille’s Semaine Noire book festival, a week-long gathering dedicated to the thriller genre.
“Double Dexter”, the sixth book in his series, comes out in the US this week. “It’s a mistake to think that Dexter is nice,” he said. “He’s not nice — people romanticise him. He’s a serial killer. “We like him because he has a code that makes us feel better about him.”
Dexter’s code, the hook for the whole series, is that he only kills other serial killers. Lindsay got the idea while being stiffed by an unappreciative audience – businessmen who hired him to speak on “why you should really try to read at least one book before you die,” he said. They were more interested in wisecracking among themselves, exchanging visiting cards – anything but hear him out. “The idea came into my head that serial murder is not always a bad thing,” he recalled devilishly. “So I started writing notes on the napkins.” He locked himself away for three days to create his monster – and the outline of a story. But it took nearly five years to wind up the first in the series, “Darkly Dreaming Dexter”, in 2004. “It’s only because my wife threatened me that I finished the book.” He also credits his spouse, writer and filmmaker Hilary Hemingway – niece of American writer Ernest – with getting him started and contributing some key elements to the series.
Lindsay was born Jeffry P. Freundlich in Miami, Florida – which is also his famous creation’s hunting ground as an analyst for the Miami Metro Police Department. With hindsight, the Dexter formula seems a sure-fire winner but when Lindsay first tried to sell it, he got nowhere. “I didn’t expect any success at all. I was rejected by every publisher in the world and every agent in town.”
He was astonished when he finally closed a deal. “Writing a book about a sympathetic serial killer, what kind of sick horrible person will want to read something like that?” But readers did. In eight years, the Dexter books have sold millions of copies in 38 countries around the world.
The actual writing can still be a struggle. While his fifth in the series, “Dexter is Delicious”, was finished in six weeks, the about-to-be-released “Double Dexter” was a “year of agony”, a “small piece of hell”, said Lindsay.
He had his doubts when first approached about the television series, admitting he originally hoped for a film. But working as a consultant on the first season, he is more than happy with the results. “They kept asking ‘What do you think?’ and I usually said ‘Don’t forget it’s funny, too’.”
As a writer, Lindsay says his character – normal by day, killer by night – was designed to look at the world through a distorted lens. “I wanted to show life and to see ourselves and our behaviour through an outsider’s eye …from the point of view of someone who knows nothing about being a human being … He doesn’t have the feelings that the rest of us do. What my research told me is that a psychopath cannot change. You’re born like that,” Lindsay said.
To whet the appetite of fans, he lets slip that he’ll be killing off a member of Dexter’s family in the series’ seventh book.