This Man Has Created A Monster
Writing and pitching scripts as a team, Lindsay and Hemingway had a handful of spectacular near misses. They can—and often do—recount them still. Studios green-lighted their projects and then went bankrupt. Their names were stenciled on parking spaces and then spray-painted over. Spielberg breakfasted with them but said he’d already done his alien movie. “You can have a good career and make a lot of money and never get anything made,” Lindsay observed. Scripts get bought and then disappear. Execs stop returning calls. “It’s called development hell.”
When Hemingway’s mother was given six months to live, the two moved home to Florida. Hemingway worked as a producer for the local FOX affiliate, which regularly kept her at the station past midnight. Lindsay found himself raising two little girls all by his lonesome, and he began writing a newspaper column on fatherhood. “I took my eldest to buy her first bra. She thought it was hilarious. I was dying.”
Lindsay had already written half a dozen novels under pen names when Dexter crept into his subconscious. “I never thought it was brilliant. Everybody else kept telling me that, and I’d go, ‘I don’t even know if I can finish the thing.’” He was juggling four projects, but Hemingway cajoled him into seeing it through. She also pressured him to continue sending it out through five years of rejection. “It was like a highlight reel of every writer’s horror story you’ve ever heard.” The finished manuscript of Darkly Dreaming Dexter sat untouched on the floor of his agent’s office for a year before Lindsay found different representation. “It was six or seven years with just this one book—pain, agony, suffering, rejection, denial, contempt. Then, all of the sudden, oops, just kidding—here’s money, here’s respect, I love you, we love you, they love you, let’s go. Woo! Party!”
Lindsay sets his novels in Miami because he knows the turf, but also because it’s difficult to imagine Dexter living anywhere else. “There’s just something about the juxtaposition of a beautiful perfect-sky sunset with flamingos, and a headless corpse,” he told me. “It’s an irresistible image.” In the series, young Dexter is orphaned at four. He goes into police work after his adoptive father, Detective Harry Morgan, recognizes his son’s sinister impulses: neighborhood pets are disappearing, and worse. Rather than try to reform Dexter, the decorated detective instills in his son a twisted moral Code of Harry—kill only bad guys, make sure they’re guilty, and don’t get caught.
And while the taproot of Lindsay’s novels is Dexter’s freaky line of work—American pop culture has long found violence titillating, and Dexter trades in nothing but—the real-life professionals who actually investigate crime scenes are considerably more normal. One of them, 45-year-old Fabrice Nelson, a career Miami-Dade crime scene technician, is so good-natured that his supervisor allows inquisitive journalists to shadow him on his job. On a suffocating afternoon that threatened rain, Nelson took me on a driving tour of Miami’s underbelly. “As soon as the sun goes down,” he warned me, “everyone goes a little crazy.”
Crime Scene Investigator Dexter spends his days investigating murders whose perpetrators are both criminal masterminds and psychotic. He doesn’t get assigned to petty larceny cases: when he’s not bagging dismembered body parts or butting heads with his nemesis boss, he’s eating a medianoche at the nearest Cuban restaurant and avoiding his girlfriend’s phone calls. On the other hand, CSI Nelson investigates a lot of car break-ins and office robberies, and he always answers his girlfriend’s calls.
We slow-cruised through “the Pork ’n Beans,” a sprawling housing project in south-central Miami, and Nelson pointed out boarded-up apartments where he’d processed homicides. “A little girl, killed by a stray bullet. Some idiot with an AK-47. The poor kid was standing in the doorway.” Dexter, by contrast, is impervious to many things, chief among them emotion, and he often seems as unfeeling toward his girlfriend, Rita, as he is toward murder victims. His best weapon is his ability to fake the trappings of emotion, like sorrow, surprise, even love. Nelson, not so much. “Kids are the ones that get to me,” he said, sounding hoarse.
In Little Havana, we turned onto Tamiami Trail. Dexter, when we first meet him, is chasing the Tamiami Butcher, who has been hacking up prostitutes along the highway and arranging them around the city in public displays of grotesque art. Dexter, having just dispatched his own 37th victim, recognizes the killer’s clinical precision. No, he admires it. The Butcher’s not just a creep—he’s competition. The novels unfold from there. On this day, happily, the Tamiami Trail was free of all stranglers, and only the mannequins outside the Latin roperias were scantily clad.