About the book
John Wayne Cleaver is dangerous, and he knows it.
He’s spent his life doing his best not to live up to his potential.
He’s obsessed with serial killers, but really doesn’t want to become one. So for his own sake, and the safety of those around him, he lives by rigid rules he’s written for himself, practicing normal life as if it were a private religion that could save him from damnation.
Dead bodies are normal to John. He likes them, actually. They don’t demand or expect the empathy he’s unable to offer. Perhaps that’s what gives him the objectivity to recognize that there’s something different about the body the police have just found behind the Wash-n-Dry Laundromat—and to appreciate what that difference means.
Now, for the first time, John has to confront a danger outside himself, a threat he can’t control, a menace to everything and everyone he would love, if only he could.
I’m a fan of psychological books. I like my protagonists weird, and I like their mental states even weirder. If we can throw an anti-hero into the mix, I’d be in hog heaven. I was discussing this point on Twitter one day and someone said, “Well, if that’s the case, why the hell haven’t you read I Am Not A Serial Killer by Dan Wells yet?” I had no answer for that so I went to the library determined to correct this horrible mistake. Here’s the bottom line: John Cleaver fits the bill. Perfectly.
John Cleaver is a rather young character, still in high school. He has obsessive tendencies which he has geared toward learning everything he possibly can about serial killers. He goes to a psychologist every week where he discusses his issues (which are numerous). There are a lot of reasons John is fascinating, not the least of which is the fact that he knows he’s clinically anti-social and shows many of the warning signs of being a serial killer. Determined not to be a serial killer, he sets some rules in place for him to follow to keep away from this behavior. For example, if he stalks someone for a certain period of time, he forces himself to ignore that person completely for a week.
Due to the fact that he’s obsessed with serial killers, he can see some abnormalities in the murders that pop up around his small town that most other people can’t see. His unique predisposition toward many serial killer behaviors also allows him an insight into the killer’s behavior. However, since he is so young, he struggles with being seen seriously by the adults in his community.
John Cleaver is absolutely fascinating. Even without the plot this character is incredible. His inner struggles are so realistic and believable it’s haunting. Wells did an immense amount of research when creating John and it really pays off. It’s not often that a reader can truly get into the mind of a character like John Cleaver. His world view, perceptions and emotions are just abnormal enough to make him really interesting. Furthermore, John Cleaver is fully aware of his abilities and disabilities, and this makes him even more interesting. It’s so rare that I encounter self-aware characters in books, when I do, I fully enjoy it.
While the subject matter I Am Not A Serial Killer deals with is very dark, and the twisted world of John Cleaver is also rather dark (yet fascinating), Wells peppers the book with plenty of humor to carry readers through. The humor is rather subtle, but there are plenty of one-liners sprinkled through these pages to lift the mood and alleviate some of the darkness that might weigh down readers.
I Am Not A Serial Killer is a good crossover novel. Fans of hard-boiled mystery/thrillers will enjoy this for the murder mystery the plot focuses on. Fans of fantasy will enjoy this for the paranormal aspects that are revealed as the plot progresses. However, it should be noted that while there are fantastic elements involved with this book, they don’t dominate the plot. In fact, they seem to be a nice added spice to the fascinating story of John Cleaver and his journey to not become a serial killer.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Wells’ ability to create an incredible atmosphere and use it to the book’s advantage. I Am Not A Serial Killer takes place in some small Anytown-America that is easy to imagine being, well, anywhere. That’s probably the point. John Cleaver’s story doesn’t take place in some remote English village, or some distant location. It could take place right here, and that’s the beauty of it. Furthermore, Wells seems to use weather and the small town atmosphere to really increase the tension as the plot progresses.
That being said, I Am Not A Serial Killer isn’t perfect (is anything?). The ending felt a slightly rushed and some of the more supernatural aspects of the plot felt a little silly in contrast to the wonderful, colorful and riveting John Cleaver. Did this impact my overall enjoyment? Not in the least. I Am Not A Serial Killer has stuck with me and made such an impact I braved rush hour traffic in horrible Utah County to get the author’s signature on my copy of the book before he moved to Germany (that’s saying something, as I’d usually rather be boiled alive than go to Utah County). I Am Not A Serial Killer scratches an itch that I rarely get scratched. It’s not flawless, but it doesn’t need to be. No matter how you cut it, John Cleaver is a character you’ll never, ever forget.