Last weekend, I finished the third book in Dan Wells' series. The books are I Am Not a Serial Killer, Mr. Monster, and I Don’t Want to Kill You. I wanted to stew on them for a few days before writing about the series as a whole.
I heard about the first book in the series when I was listening to an episode of Writing Excuses (hosted by Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler). Brandon commented on how well Dan had done making a normally unsympathetic main character (he’s a sociopath who dreams and has fantasies of torturing and killing people) into someone you love and worry about, someone you’re cheering for, cringing for, having dang nightmares for!
The first book wasn’t high on my list of reading priorities because I don’t really read horror anymore. When I was a child, I loved to be scared to death. LOVED it. Used to make my mother nuts because I’d end up on her side of my parents’ bed. I guess I knew my father wouldn’t have any patience with my self-induced nightmares. I gave horror up when, as a young widow, I was scared to go down the dark hallway to one of my crying children. Single parenthood and Stephen King were not a good fit.
Back on topic, I continued to hear rave reviews about Dan’s book, so I decided to download the audiobook. You can see my review of I Am Not a Serial Killerhere.
Mindy over at LDS Women's Book Review warned me that she found Mr. Monster the hardest of
the three books. Because of my response to the first book, hearing this from Mindy really made me nervous. But it makes sense this middle book in the trilogy would be dark (dark for an already dark series? Hmmm).
John Cleaver, our hero, after his success in the first book, is losing control of his dark side, his Mr. Monster. The rules he'd so carefully put in place to save him (and society) from his inner demon had to be loosened in order to be the victor in the first book. But once rules have been broken, they're much harder to put back together again.
Whereas I took a break and read another tome between the first two books, I jumped right into the last one. It's longer, and John has to deal with more issues (like Mr. Monster isn't enough, right?). Girls at school are killing themselves, and a serial killer is loose in Clayton County again ... and John has some responsibility for it. But he's also better in control of his monster, and he's making progress socially.
I'm not going to say too much about what actually happens, but there are some really horrible things and some really wonderful things that happen to our John. The journey he makes in this book, the growth and self discovery, are profound. And exquisite for me, the reader.
Perhaps some of what struck a cord with me in this seris is John's dealing with his mental illness. I have many friends and family members who struggle with mental illness. I've lived through a suicide and several attempted suicides of people very close to me. I've felt the consequences of loving someone with a devastating mental illness. People can have one and struggle through the challenges and carve a decent life for themselves. They can love and grow and be active participants in their families and society.
At the end of this last book, I cried. I cried for the poignant discovery John made about himself. He suffered some terrible losses, yet the very pain he experienced brought hope. For others trying to find their way through life's challenges, John Wayne Cleaver is an inspiration. Real life readers may not be able to go out and hunt supernatural demons, but sometimes hunting--and dominating--their own demons is enough.