Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Review - I Am Not a Serial Killer Series

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 Killer here.

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.

I highly recommend this series.


  1. I haven't read these books but from the description they sound very similar to the Dexter books. Are they?

  2. Mooderino, they are similar only in that the main character is a sociopath with the potential to become a serial killer if he doesn't learn to control it. I havent' read the Dexter books, but I've heard about them. Dexter IS a serial killer who channels his internal demon by killing other serial killers.

    John's story is much bigger than that. Remember the title of the first book?

  3. I am still working up the courage to read these! Scary!! I'm NOT a fan of horror, although Dan Wells class on horror was my favorite at Storymakers. I just have a hard time watching or reading it... I'll check these out. One of these days! Ha ha! :)

  4. Wow! Great review. Thanks for the mention :)

  5. Oh and Chantele, I felt the same way. But these books are amazing. Like I said though, I had a harder time with Mr. Monster, but it's still brilliant!

  6. @Mooderino--the books were advertised in Europe as "Teenage Dexter in an X-Files episode." :)

    @Chantele--I'm not a fan of horror, either. Things that go bump in the night just don't appeal to me... but these books are different. John's story is less about the horrible happenings in his world as it is about the horrible happenings in his head. It's a story about redemption in the face of VERY long odds. It's deeply disturbing, but ultimately joyful. If that makes any sense. John's dry humor helps a LOT. I hugged these books after finishing them. (Though my mother waxed disappointingly moralistic in her criticism of the first one....)

    Donna--great review. I love that you found John as inspiring as I did! :)

  7. Donna,

    Thanks for reviewing the series. I've been tempted to pick it up for a while just because the titles are so brilliant, but I hate books that romanticize gore and the satiating of primal behavior. I like to see people overcome trials, not give in to them. Hence, I don't watch/read Dexter. I don't do Silence of the Lambs. I certainly don't watch any of the Saw movies. I know some good people who really enjoy those, it's just not for me.

    This series is getting added to my list!

  8. Am I a total geek when I heard them call Dan Wells names at Storymakers and my heart raced a little?? (He's famous!! I'm thinking...) :) And I haven't even read his books, yet...

    But, I will. Thanks for the great review!

  9. I'm scared of reading these. I never met a horror novel I liked. Maybe I'll have to give it a shot.

  10. I like the sound of I'm Not A Serial Killer very much. It does kind of remind me of American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis. From your review I think I could read this one. I think :) Great review btw

  11. In spite of my eclectic reading tastes, these books don't sound like something I would normally pick up in a bookstore, yet you got me intrigued.

    I just downloaded the sample so I'm going to give that a try first.

  12. For those of you who don't normally read this kind of genre I completely understand. I felt the same way. It was a hard read but worth it.

  13. I don't know - still sounds really dark!

  14. Donna, how interesting! I'm with Alex, I'm not sure I could get into something so dark. :(

    Can Alex save Winter from the darkness that hunts her?
    YA Paranormal Romance, Darkspell coming fall of 2011!

  15. Thanks for this review! I bought the second book in the series at the conference (they were out of the first one) and I've heard nothing but good things about it. Can't wait to get to them! :)


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