OK, so for once I'm posting on the actual day that we have the discussion! Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay is a crime novel where the protagonist is a sociopathic serial killer. Except he only kills seriously bad guys (child molesters, murderers etc).
This premise led me to believe that the character of Dexter might have an essence of nobility. I had images of the caped crusader, the dark avenger. I was wrong. Dexter is a sociopath -- totally without emotion or feeling, except for sometimes. Sometimes he gets really excited about blood, or cutup chunks of body parts. You sometimes get the feeling that he feels some affection for his foster sister, Deborah, a cop who has enlisted Dexter's aid to solve a serial murder case. But ultimately everything Dexter feels is intellectualised. He has been groomed/trained to value his sister, therefore he does.
Dexter's life has been shaped by a traumatic event in his childhood, and his now deceased foster father, who identified Dexter's predilection for murder when he was still quite young and taught him to save it for the bad guys. This could be looked at in two ways: channelling irreppressible instincts so that they created least harm; or fostering and accepting an unforgivable predisposition. Either way, Dexter is a killer who loves killing. He calls it his "hobby". And it's not a simple gunshot wound, or slit thoat, or strangulation. Dexter's preferred method is to cut up his victims while they are alive.
I confess I found it hard to understand why so many of our group found Dexter a likable character! Many of them have been swayed by the associated tv series, but not all. It is true that his snappy first-person narrative contains a lot of humour and self-mockery; but he also has a girlfriend he doesn't care about, essentially just for show, an almost-loved sister whom he actually almost starts cutting up!, and a deep admiration and passion for the unknown serial killer who leaves decapitated barbies swinging on Dexter's own fridge.
Having said all that, it was a fast read and I didn't dislike it, but I did find it disturbing. Most of the group didn't though, claiming that the humour dispelled all the darker stuff. I didn't actually find it funny -- entertaining for sure, but not funny.
At its heart, the book is a crime novel, with Dexter and Deborah racing against the clock to identify the serial killer so that Deb can get promoted -- only there's some doubt as to whether Dexter actually wants to find the killer. In the end it gets predictably gory and the secrets of Dexter's past are revealed . . .
As I've said, the general mood in our reading group was positive, with many embarking on subsequent books and the TV series. I don't feel much compelled to do either, although I might watch the TV show out of interest if it came on free-to-air. (Currently it's on either cable or DVD.)
Hmm. Some more nitpicking by the group: just about every character is not very bright -- except for Dexter of course, who is super-intelligent and every bit as arrogant; the end is very contrived and poorly explained -- there are so many loose ends; there's an assumption that horrific event in childhood = serial killer when grown up.