Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Dexter | Jeff Lindsay's anti hero serial killer is still truly delicious | Crime fiction

A year ago, I got the chance to speak to Jeff Lindsay, the creator of the Dexter crime series, on the hardback publication of Dexter is Delicious. The book is out in paperback in the UK next month (August). As you can imagine, it is one hell of a tasty read. Here's the interview:

Jeff Lindsay wasn’t totally up to date on recent developments in crime novels when he came up with Dexter. As a playwright married Ernest Hemingway’s niece, Hilary, he had his mind set on other, more literary pursuits.

“I just had this idea about writing a character who was a serial killer, but who you liked, without really knowing why you liked him,” the author explains. “I thought of it as a middle finger gesture, a book that a few people would read and then I’d move on to the next project. But when Darkly Dreaming Dexter came out one reviewer said I’d re-energised the serial killer genre. I thought: 'Genre?' I didn’t know there was a genre – what’s wrong with people? I’d never read any of those books.”

So why a serial killer? Lindsay says he was fascinated with the idea that mass murderers could be popular. “On the internet the more well-known serial killers have fans and get letters from young women who want to have sex with them!” he points out. “I don’t have a definitive answer but I think serial killers are attractive because we all have feelings like they have - but don’t act on them. It’s somebody outside the rules who is getting away with something we’d like to try.”

The fifth Dexter book comes out this month and looks set to follow its predecessors onto the best seller lists on both sides of the Atlantic. A blood spatter analyst for Miami police by day, Dexter is of course a cuddly Hannibal Lecter by night, a handsome young professional who methodically and carefully carving up bad guys (a lot of paedophiles). Oh yes, it’s also on TV.

“It was doing so well I started dreaming of turning it into a movie - starring Johnny Depp,” Lindsay laughs. 

“Then one or two film producers called - then Showtime called about a series on television. That is when my agent sat me down and said: ‘You know the odds. If it gets made, if it’s good and if anyone sees it - you’ve got three months and then your book is dead forever. But if the people at Showtime can do the job you’ll be selling books for five or six years. I still thought it was a terrible idea, I wanted to do a movie – with Johnny Depp. But it turns out that he was right.”

Intriguingly, the Dexter TV series has had a parallel, quite separate existence from the character in the books with barely any plot overlap at all after the first series. “I don’t recognise my own narration in it so much anymore, they do their own thing,” he says. Indeed, Lindsay’s new yarn, Dexter is Delicious, even features a character the TV guys killed off in series one.

“There were television reasons for that,” he confides with a chuckle. “Someone else who was supposed to die was dating one of the producers so they had to kill someone and the brother didn’t have a long term contract. That is the way Hollywood works.”

Bloody they might be, but Dexter is first and foremost a hilarious read, from the ghoulish wisecracks about the murder scenes to the, quite terrifying, insights into Miami’s traffic jams.

“I think sometimes I’ve exaggerated the traffic stuff and then people say to me, ‘that’s nothing, let me tell you what happened to me!’” he laughs. “The police pulled 100 cars over recently in some random check - 93 of them had guns inside, including over 30 automatics or missile launchers.”

The new book takes a timely dig at another best selling phenom, Twilight, by featuring teenage vampires. Yeah, the goth thing is big - and there are vampires out there, people who believe they are vampires and do drink real human blood. I heard an interview on the radio with a member of one group – and they really do call them covens – and he was saying, ‘Oh we are so misunderstood. We can’t turn into bats we just like to drink blood... we’re perfectly normal people who drink blood.’ I thought this is so cool, I’ve got to play with it.”

Great fun though the Dexter books are, I can’t help but wonder what his wife’s literary forebear might have thought of them. He laughs.

“I think he would have a certain amount of contempt for them,” Lindsay says. “He had high standards that amounted to ‘If you are not me or one or two other people, you’re not anything.’ But I can live with that. I am very consciously writing for people and to entertain - and that wasn’t his goal at all.”

* this interview has already appeared in Big Issue Scotland

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