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Onyx reviews: Dexter's Final Cut by Jeff Lindsay

There's a TV series based on Jeff Lindsay's novels featuring serial killer Dexter Morgan. Now, in the seventh novel, Dexter has been asked to act as a creative consultant for a TV series based on the Miami Homicide Division. It's like art imitating art. His sister, Sergeant Deborah Morgan, is also enlisted. Neither is fond of the idea, but they aren't given a choice. It's good publicity, Captain Matthews tells them.

Dexter is saddled with a self-absorbed actor named Robert (never Rob or Bob) Chase, who will appear in the series as a blood spatter expert. He shadows Dexter's every move, which severely restricts Dexter's hobby. However, Deb's sidekick, Jacqueline "Jackie" Forrest, takes Dexter by surprise. He is smitten by her, a sensation completely foreign to him. He is always quick to deny any emotions or feelings during his narrative, so he is understandably confused by his attraction to the beautiful actress.

Chase is all method, and his incessant questions get on Dexter's nerves, as is the actor's habit of mimicking tics and quirks Dexter didn't know he had. Dexter is oblivious to the actors' reputations. Chase may be put off by the fact that he isn't starstruck, but Jackie finds it endearing. She can be herself around him without wondering if he's hanging around because she's a celebrity. 

This wouldn't be a Dexter novel without a serial killer. This one is sicker than most, killing young women, mutilating them (mostly while they're still alive), and leaving genetic material in unlikely places. When confronted with a real crime scene, Chase quickly retreats to the periphery, which gives Dexter room to conduct his own investigation. He and Deb come up with a theory of the crime that makes sense. However, they can't act on their suspicions because Deb isn't in charge of the case. Instead, it's in the hands of one of the most ineffective cops on the force, someone guaranteed to gum things up. Deb decides to conduct a shadow investigation, pretending to be educating the actors in proper procedure.

However, when Jackie's life seems to be at risk, Deb and Dexter can't do anything official about it, so Dexter agrees to be the actress's bodyguard. This means staying with her at her luxury hotel when she's not on the set. The lifestyle of the rich and famous gets its hooks into him. He begins to fantasize about living this way all the time.

Fans of the series need to reorient themselves when reading these books. Dexter's wife, Rita, is still very much alive. Their youngest child is a girl, not a boy, and Rita's son Cody is a budding sociopath. Deb also has a child, a son. Batista isn't a lieutenant but rather a forensics investigator. 

Of all these details, the first is the most germane to this novel. Dexter's fondness for Jackie might be acceptable if he weren't married and a father. He blithely ignores Rita's concerns and considers abandoning his Miami life, without a tinge of concern for her feelings. On the other hand, how much does a little lust add to the moral imbalance of a serial killer? Speaking of which, Dexter does get to do that which he does so well once in this book, which is all well and good, except the killings don't stop.

The book's title (originally Dexter's Debut) has an air of finality, as if this might be the last in the series, timed to coincide with the end of the Showtime series, but it makes more sense as an allusion to the film industry. Dexter even gets a bit part as a murder victim (irony?) on the series once filming of the pilot starts. Of course, Dexter is constantly playing a part, so acting isn't much of a stretch for him.

However, it is unlikely Lindsay is ready to give up on Dexter. Especially after the devastating finale to this book, which leaves Dexter's future very much up in the air, but definitely not at an end. 

This may well be the best book in the series since Darkly Dreaming Dexter, the first. The whodunit is cleverly crafted, and the red herrings are effective. The book is full of Dexter's wry observations about Miami traffic and life in general, but it treats the character more humanly than ever before, while at the same time dealing out some of the worst punishments he's ever had to bear.

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