My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Having listened to the Writing Excuses podcast for years now, I kept hearing about Dan Wells’ first book series. Finally, I got stuck into the audiobook version midway of the first book this past week, listening to it predominantly during long walks along a path near the ocean. It was a rather surreal experience, but I can say that it was well worth the listen from both a creative and a reader viewpoint.
John Wayne Cleaver is a troubled teenager that has been diagnosed as a sociopath. Though he’s been obsessed with serial killers for many years, the closest he’s come to a dead body is through the mortuary at the house in which he lives with his mother in a small town. He even gets to help out with the embalming process.
Then the first in a series of murders arrives at the mortuary and he notices the tell-tale signs of a decisive killing. When he later sees the killer in action, he realizes that he is dealing with something outside of the natural realm: a shapeshifting, body-part stealing creature that he calls a demon. With further knowledge that the creature cannot be destroyed by conventional means, he slowly devises a plan to stop it hurting others, all the while having to contend with the dark voice in his head that he aptly calls “Mister Monster”.
Dan Wells carves out a terrific first book, with a genuinely interesting first person narrative from fifteen year-old John. I could relate to him easily, knowing how difficult it is to fit in, with the bullying John faced hit home especially. Dan Wells is sure to write it through the unique lens of a sociopath though, slightly off to the side due to the unusual ways in which a sociopath connects to other people.
There are numerous things going on during this story as well. John has to deal with his various interpersonal relationships with family members such as his mother, his therapist Doctor Neblin, his classmates, the girl up the road that he likes, his best friend, and the people across the street. Much of these relationships aren’t resolved during the span of the book, but they play out so well in important ways. They add a lot to the storytelling as they give plenty of insight into John via his commentary.
The story itself progresses in a logical but gloriously chaotic way. John’s own character development does play a huge role as well, as many of the choices that he makes have definitive ramifications. John is forced to learn from his own mistakes and these mistakes often reveal information about the serial killer as well.
I Am Not A Serial Killer is not for the kiddies. It is a story about a serial killer with the psychological edge and gore needed to hit its mark. Dan Wells knows how to build suspense, and though I usually don’t read this genre found myself highly enjoying the story. Maybe this is the product of my tastes changing as I get older, but I can’t help but think this is because of how Dan Wells crafts a story. If you are into psychological thrillers with a supernatural edge, you will seriously dig this first book in the trilogy. You will likely also enjoy this book if you enjoyed Mark Yoshimoto-Nemcoff’s Infinity series.