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Friday, March 12, 2010

“I Am Not A Serial Killer” by Dan Wells (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

Official Dan Wells Website
Order “I Am Not A Serial KillerHERE (US) + HERE (UK)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Dan Wells has a Bachelor’s Degree in English from Brigham Young University where he was an editor at The Leading Edge Magazine. Dan currently runs www.timewastersguide.com. “I Am Not A Serial Killer” is his first novel.

PLOT SUMMARY: John Wayne Cleaver wants to be a good person, but is fascinated with serial killers and fears that he is fated to become one himself. So for his own sake, and the safety of those around him, John has suppressed the monster inside him through a strict system of rules designed to mimic 'normal' behavior.

Then a demon begins stalking his small town and killing people one by one, and John is forced to give in to his darker nature in order to save them. As he struggles to understand the demon and find a way to kill it, his own mind begins to unravel until he fears he may never regain control. Faced with the reality that he is, perhaps, more monstrous than the monster he is fighting, John must make a final stand against the horrors of both the demon and himself...

CLASSIFICATION: Part serial killer thriller and part supernatural horror with black humor, coming-of-age and teen angst mixed in, “I Am Not A Serial Killer” is like a cross between Dexter, Jeepers Creepers, and a YA dramedy...

FORMAT/INFO: I Am Not A Serial Killer” is 272 pages long divided over nineteen numbered chapters. Narration is in the first-person exclusively via the fifteen-year-old protagonist, John Wayne Cleaver. “I Am Not A Serial Killer” is self-contained, but is the first volume in a trilogy. The second book, “Mr. Monster”, was published in the UK on March 4, 2010 via Headline.

March 30, 2010 marks the North American Hardcover publication of “I Am Not A Serial Killer” via Tor. The UK edition (see below) was first published on March 5, 2009 (Headline).

ANALYSIS: I’m a big fan of serial killer stories, both fiction and nonfiction, and in all mediums with Dexter, Scott Bakker’sNeuropath”, Chelsea Cain’s Gretchen Lowell novels, and the Monster anime some notable recent additions to the subgenre. So when I first heard about Dan Wells’ debut, “I Am Not A Serial Killer”, I was immediately intrigued.

At first, it felt like I was reading a YA version of Dexter with all of John’s rules that he follows, his inability to connect with anyone emotionally, his struggle at trying to appear normal—in this case, a fifteen-year-old teenager—and embracing his darker side for good instead of evil, but pretty soon that didn’t matter because I was hooked by John Wayne Cleaver’s compelling narrative voice. A voice that was both accessible and convincing for a fifteen-year-old teenager . . . that is, a fifteen-year-old teenager with sociopathic tendencies:

It was like my brain had a screen saver full of blood and screaming, and if I ever left it idle for too long, those thoughts would pop up and take over.”

I felt like one of Max’s video games, fumbling with unfamiliar controls and watching as my character on the screen ran helplessly in circles.”

In addition to John’s narrative voice, I loved the actual character of John Wayne Cleaver including his fascination with serial killers (their history, characteristics, and profiles); the traits he shares with serial killers (bed-wetting, pyromania, animal cruelty); the relationships in his life (his mom, his only friend Max, his therapist Dr. Neblin, his neighbor Mr. Crowley); and the inner struggle between his good side and ‘Mr. Monster’. On top of that, I enjoyed the many references to famous serial killers (Dennis Rader, Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, Son of Sam, Jack the Ripper, Ted Bundy, Ed Gein) and the in-depth look at the work of a mortician.

Then there’s the demon. A serial killer with supernatural abilities, the demon—which is how John describes the killer—immediately adds a unique dimension to “I Am Not A Serial Killer”, especially when John decides to kill the demon himself and uses his extensive knowledge of serial killers and his sociopathic tendencies to study and profile the demon, particularly the demon’s methods, reasonings and weaknesses. What’s really interesting about the demon is how it forces John to analyze himself, and the startling things he learns, like what happens when he lets the monster inside loose...

Negatively, my only complaint was that we didn’t learn more of the demon—What it is? Where did it come from? Are there more of them?—but I’m hoping these questions might be addressed in the sequels.

CONCLUSION: Overall, “I Am Not A Serial Killer” is a fantastic debut. The writing is incredibly self-assured for a first novel; John Wayne Cleaver is a fascinating and memorable protagonist with a wonderful narrative voice; the realistic supporting cast does a superb job of illustrating how different John is from normal people; the story is skillfully executed with a nice blend of thrills, angst, humor and thought-provoking examination; and the concept, while partly familiar, is fresh, bold and distinctive as a whole. In short, Dan Wells has written a bona fide winner with “I Am Not A Serial Killer”, and I can’t wait to read more of John Wayne Cleaver...

7 comments:

brizmus said...

This does sound like a fantastic debut. I absolutely have to read it! Thanks for the review!

Robert said...

You're welcome :D One of the more entertaining books I've read in the past several months...

Hagelrat said...

Mr Monster I think answers your one complaint. These are fantastic books.

Robert said...

Thanks Hagelrat! I'm actually thinking about ordering the UK version of Mr. Monster rather than waiting for the US one...

Casey said...

Also check out Dan as part of the panel on the podcast, "Writing Excuses," featuring him, Howard Taylor, and Brandon Sanderson. www.writingexcuses.com I'm not usually one to just drop plugs like that, but these podcasts are great for anyone interested in the craft, and even business, of writing genre fiction.

Rabid Fox said...

Very nice review. This sounds like a great, great story to get sucked into. Dexter-lite, perhaps, but I'll be keeping an eye out for it.

Brooke said...

The writing is great, only one problem, the protagonist is not a sociopath, blame his therapist and poor research. John actually has a form of very marked schizoid personality and/or asperger's syndrome, a specific variety of it. which is nothing close to antisocial personality disorder but gets confused with and misdiagnosed all the time.
He's just an asperger's kid too deep into his obsession.
One line in the book proves it "I saw no no reason to dance around the issue. I was a sociopath and it was better to deal with it now."

A real sociopath would never think this, they aren't capable of this way of thinking or any of the "controls" John has in place.

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