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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Dark Psychological Thriller's Gonna Take Some Mulling Over ...

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

"The monster was entwined around me so fully that I couldn't tell where it ended and I began, but I was still there, somewhere" (215).

Fate wants to mold 15-year-old John Wayne Cleaver into one thing: a serial killer. Not only does he share 2/3 of his name with a notorious killer, but his last name describes a common murder weapon. All of which could be dismissed as coincidence if it wasn't for the fact that John is a sociopath - someone incapable of empathizing with others - a trait commonly found in the most cold-blooded of murderers. It doesn't help that he obsesses about serial killers, can't stop thinking violent thoughts, and would rather spend his time with the corpses in his family's mortuary than hanging out with an actual living, breathing person.

The thing is, as fascinating as John finds these killers, he doesn't want to turn into one. He wants to be a good person. A normal teenager. So, he forces himself to live by strict rules - no stalking, no fixating, no dissecting dead animals, and above all, try to act like everyone else. It works. Until someone begans murdering people in John's small town. This is the closest he's ever been to an actual crime scene. Hardly able to contain his excitement, John launches his own secret investigation. What he finds - a true monster - stuns him.

John's spent his whole life fighting against the urge to kill, but there seems to be no other way to stop the deaths. Only he knows the truth about the madman terrorizing Clayton County. Only he can take on the killer, because only another sociopath can think like the killer. Unleashing the monster inside himself is against every one of John's rules. Still, the very idea is as tempting as it is terrifying. If he lets out the demon that lurks inside of him, even for a good reason, will he ever be able to rein it back in? Or will he be destroying one killer only to release another? Can he overcome destiny's pull on him? Or will he succumb to the dark compulsions that are becoming so very difficult to ignore?

I Am Not A Serial Killer by Dan Wells boasts one of the most fascinating premises I've ever encountered in a book. While being inside the mind of a potential killer made me squirm, it also made me think hard about the life-changing power of choice. Very, very intriguing topic. As for the rest of the book, it wasn't exactly what I expected. I'm not even sure what genre it falls under - Horror? Psychological thriller? Cautionary tale? All of those, really. Dan Wells is kind of like Stephen King for the Mensa set, or at least the Advanced Placement-ers. It's an intellectual horror novel, if such a thing even exists. It's also a strange book - compelling, but disturbing - and I'm still not sure what I think of it. The best I can come up with is this: while I'll definitely read the rest of this series, I'm not exactly chomping at the bit. I'm disturbed enough for now, thank you very much.
(Readalikes: Reminded me a little bit of House Rules by Jodi Picoult)

Grade: B

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 (Although there are only a couple uses of mild language and only the vaguest of sexual innuendos, this book has enough violence and gore to make it inappropriate for readers under 13.)

To the FTC, with love: I bought I Am Not A Serial Killer from the author at this year's LDS Storymakers Conference.


  1. I felt the same way when I finished the book. It was really kind of dark, but I loved the messages about choices, and our actions. I also admired the main character for trying so hard to be good. I am intrigued by the sequels and at the same time I am sort of wary of them. Not sure when I will pick them up.

  2. I loved this book and keep passing it on to all my friends. :) It is disturbing, of course, but I can't help but love John Wayne Cleaver. He's a vulnerable child, an unemotional sociopath, and a staunchly moral and courageous hero, all in one.

    Thanks, Susan, for buying it for me!

  3. This book sounds fascinating and deeply disturbing. Like you, I love authors that explore the power of choice. I'll look for this at the library.

  4. This sounds like an interesting book. It kind of seems like Dexter, but more thought-provoking.

  5. Just finished this and I'm completely freaked out. Glad I am not alone in my house tonight. How can I say I liked it, when I was so disturbed. But I could not put it down.


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