I Am Not A Serial Killer is perfectly titled for its subject matter. Fifteen year old John Wayne Cleaver has sociopathic tendencies, which he works very hard to control through various rules designed to make him act normal. Of course it doesn’t help matters that his family runs the local morgue and he’s surrounded by cadavers. Neither does his fascination with serial killers, a topic on which he’s well versed. When a suspected serial killer leaves a trail of bodies in John’s home town, John is determined to stop him, even if it means breaking all of his own rules. From here, the book becomes a villain against villain cat-and-mouse chase. Cleaver narrates the entire book in the first person and the criminology/serial killer trivia he mentions in the book is occasionally interesting in its own morbid way.
The book’s biggest strength is how Wells successfully humanizes Cleaver’s character. At times you forget that Cleaver has a very real darker side, but the scenes with his therapist and his narrative voice informs all of the demons he copes with on a daily basis and how hard he struggles to retain them. As a result, he never really comes off as a one-sided or flat character. When he does something heroic or cowardly, for example, it is entirely believable and I think the narrative benefited enormously from the first person perspective.
Best Scene in the Book: Spoiler Alert: The scene at the lake where John first encounters the serial killer was utterly inspired and riveting. Wells does an awesome job setting up the reader’s expectations and completely demolishes them. Writing a scene that isn’t telegraphed or foreshadowed at all is a tough narrative trick (esp. with a cynical reader who can spot such things) but I thought Wells did a good job in it. It is my favourite scene and I pretty much read the book in one sitting after that. End Spoiler If you’re into horror, I’d recommend this book, but also if most horror isn’t in your regular reading diet, this book is a pretty good introduction.
Dan Wells co-hosts the awesome Writing Excuses Podcast. Highly recommended for aspiring writers.