A 15-year old boy named John Wayne Cleaver, a diagnosed sociopath obsessed with serial killers, who used to torture animals, loves fire and still battles incontinence, seems better suited for the role of “villain” but Dan Wells proves the opposite in his debut novel, I Am Not a Serial Killer.
What I Liked Most
The exploration of man’s duality: good and evil living within the same being and the choice whether man indulges the “wrong” urges or denies them for the “right” ones. Perhaps this inner struggle is why people are so smitten with characters like Dexter Morgan and Hannibal Lecter, who are, by most definitions, “bad” people. Yet we can’t get enough of them or their stories. Why? We always hope, against all odds, the bad person can change – that they can be redeemed – and the “good” person we know is in there, will prevail. Plus, thanks to their writers, they’re likeable.
And John Wayne Cleaver is likeable with his sharp humor, witty observations and devotion to making the “good” choice.
What I Liked Least
First know, I’ve read this book twice because the below threw me for such a loop last year that I had to give the story another chance. Now I’m going to do for you, those who haven’t already read the book, what the author should’ve done:
SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!
Yes, that’s right: The author spoiled his own surprise. And a really good one, I might add. For three chapters Wells builds mystery and suspense around the murders and the killer. But then, while John examines a victim’s body, Wells writes,
While we waited, I studied the slashes in the body’s abdomen. They were certainly animalistic, and one area on its left side had what looked like a claw mark — four ragged slits, about an inch apart, that extended nearly a foot toward the belly. This was the work of the demon, of course, though we still didn’t know that at the time. How could we? Back then, none of us even suspected that demons were real. I placed my own hand over the marks and guessed that whoever made them had a hand much bigger than mine. (Chapter 3, Page 52)
Not the best reveal ever and it seems to come from an omniscient source because in the next sentence John is guessing about the killer again. I was jolted out of the story by those three sentences; however, I kept reading. But Wells continued the story as if the above never happened. So, four chapters later on page 103, there was only mild surprise when, in what I assume was supposed to be the big TA-DA, the killer’s identity is revealed. It just wasn’t as exciting as it could’ve been had the above passage been cut.
Overall, as a debut novel in young adult literature, I Am Not a Serial Killer offers readers something different and entertaining. I have a soft spot when it comes to books for teens, especially in the horror genre, and I feel there’s potential with Dan Wells. He’s certainly not shy about splashes of gore here and there. I look forward to reading the rest of the trilogy. But please, no more spoilers!
Learn more about Dan Wells and his books at http://www.fearfulsymmetry.net/