The brilliant psychopath played by Michael C. Hall on the Showtime series is so different from the one in Jeff Lindsay's novels that the author sometimes forgets he invented him

By Keith Staskiewicz
October 28, 2011 at 04:00 AM EDT

Dexter is living a double life, and we’re not just talking about his secret hobby of meticulous murder. Author Jeff Lindsay first gave birth to the character in 2004’s Darkly Dreaming Dexter and has been writing his bloody exploits ever since, even as the popular Showtime series it spawned started drifting away from the source material. The show is now in its sixth season, while Lindsay’s latest novel — the appropriately titled Double Dexter — has just hit stores, and the two worlds of Dexter are as far apart as ever.

”I basically look at them as two entirely different entities,” says Lindsay. ”I love the show, but I turn on the TV and I watch it like I’m watching House. My name comes up at the beginning of the show and it’s like, ‘Oh, that’s right!”’ Many of the differences are purely narrative: Characters who are alive in the books are dead on the show, and vice versa. But there’s also a fundamental difference in Dexter, whose literary iteration tends to be crueler and darker than his TV counterpart (Michael C. Hall). ”One of the demands that TV seems to feel is to make people more cuddly, and that’s perfectly understandable,” says Lindsay, who has his Dexter kill his victims much more painfully and mercilessly. ”But the fact of the matter is, from the research I’ve seen, a psychopath can’t change. It’s a physical difference in the brain. You’re born that way, you die that way.”

Despite the contrasts, though, the two worlds do bleed into each other occasionally. For example, the birth of book Dexter’s baby, Lily Anne, coincided with that of TV Dexter’s Harrison. And when TV Dexter’s wife, Rita, was killed off in the fourth-season finale, Lindsay caught some of the blowback. ”The next year, everywhere I went people were yelling at me, ‘What did you kill her for?!?”’ he remembers. ”And I say, ‘It wasn’t me! My Rita is still alive!”’