A review double-feature! Excitement abounds!
I just recently finished reading the second book in Dan Wells’ clever and compelling John Cleaver series, and since I’ve had an unfinished review of the first book sitting in my draft folder for the last few months, it seems like a fine idea to merge the two together into one post.
I’ve previously mentioned Dan Wells on this site in reference to both his talk on story structure, as well as his part in the excellent Writing Excuses podcast. I’ve always enjoyed his comments on the writing process, and the content of his talk has helped me immensely when it comes to plotting, but up until a few months ago, I had never had the opportunity to actually read his work. That’s kind of an important omission, and honestly I was a little nervous that when I did get to read one of his books that I would be disappointed.
As it turned out, I didn’t need to worry at all.
Book One: I Am Not A Serial Killer
The book IANASK follows the life of John Wayne Cleaver, a teenage boy that lives in a rural town situated in an unidentified patch of land somewhere near the middle of nowhere. When John isn’t attending school, he’s either working in the family-owned mortuary with his mother and aunt, hanging out alone at the lake, or seeing his therapist. You see, John is a sociopath, and he’s obsessed with serial killers. John doesn’t want to be a serial killer, mind you, he’s just fascinated with them, but he’s starting to worry he might become one anyway. So, John makes rules for himself, and follows them very closely.
When a real killer comes to town, John can’t help himself, and quickly finds himself conducting his own investigation. It’s during this process that John discovers that the killer in question is something other than human. Soon, John finds himself breaking his own rules in order to try to stop the killer, but the question becomes which of them is a bigger monster?
IANASK is an outstanding debut novel, with a tight narrative, compelling characters and just the right amount of dark humor. Wells really risks a lot telling the story in the first-person, with a sociopath as a narrator, but he succeeds admirably. It’s hard not to like John, even if you are occasionally horrified by what he’s thinking.
Book Two: Mr. Monster
Mr. Monster picks up about a year after IANASK, with John dealing with the aftermath of the events from the previous book. John broke a lot of his personal rules in the last book and now he has to figure out a way to get his darker impulses under control, even as he is pushed into more and more social situations. Further complicating his life, another killer has arrived in town, and this one is leaving him messages.
Mr. Monster is a fantastic follow-up to the previous novel, and manages to provide more of the same stuff I loved from IANASK, while adding an extra layer of complexity to the narrative. This is a far creepier story than the last, and it is definitely more disturbing. However, the narrative is as tight as before, and the unrelenting pace of the story keeps the reader plowing through each horrifying chapter, right up until the final confrontation between John and the killer.
This was an outstanding book, and I found myself devouring it in a single sitting. Which, in retrospect, was maybe not the best strategy to follow right before going to bed. :-) Still, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and as an added bonus, it has one of the best parting lines you could ask for, which left me hungering for the next book.
The Final Verdict
Both of these books are wonderful reads, and well worth your time to pick up. The concluding volume will be released early next year, and is titled I Don’t Want To Kill You, which incidentally is also a terrible pick-up line. I’m excited to find out what happens next in John Wayne Cleaver’s life, and even more eager to see what other tricks Dan Wells has up his sleeves.