(Image from Barnes & Noble)
(Note: While this review will not contain spoilers for I Don't Want to Kill You, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from the first two books in the trilogy. As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)
I have a little bit of a love/hate relationship with the John Cleever series by Dan Wells. The books are all well-written, compelling and thought-provoking, to be sure, but they're also gory, violent and disturbing. So, while I find them entertaining, I also find them a little hard to stomach. The middle book (Mr. Monster) made me feel physically ill, so I was a tad reluctant to pick up I Don't Want to Kill You, the last book in the trilogy. If it hadn't been nominated for this year's Whitney Awards, I probably would have put off reading it a bit longer, which would have been a shame because it's not nearly as unsettling as its predecessors. Or maybe it's just me—it's entirely possible that prolonged exposure to the twisted mind of Dan Wells has deadened my frailer sensibilities.
At any rate, I Don't Want to Kill You begins a couple of months after Mr. Monster ends. John Wayne Cleever, a 16-year-old sociopath, is waiting patiently for the arrival of a demon named Nobody. The monster is coming, John knows that; it's just a matter of when she'll show up. Whenever she makes her arrival, he'll be ready. He might study serial killers, he might dream of murder, but John's tired of watching people he knows die. It's time for him to take control, to destroy the demon who may already be darkening the streets of his hometown, masquerading as a normal, everyday resident of Clayton, North Dakota.
John's unusual psychological makeup makes him the perfect demon hunter, but he can't let his darker impulses control him if he wants to have any kind of normal life. And he does, he really does. To triumph over Mr. Monster, the devil that lurks inside him, John must focus on the hunt for Nobody. In order to save the people of Clayton, he has to take a careful, probing look at each and every one of them. All of them, as he soon discovers, are hiding something, but which one of them conceals a demon? It will take all of John's wit, all of his strength, all of his talent to find and eliminate Nobody before she takes over the town and everyone in it.
Like the first two books in the trilogy, I Don't Want to Kill You explores the idea of people choosing their own destinies, in spite of all the things that might be working against them. This intriguing premise is what elevates the novels above other horror stories. In addition, John is a character who probably shouldn't be sympathetic, but is, simply because he's trying so hard to overcome his baser instincts. He's a fascinating hero, one for whom I always find myself rooting, even when he's having homicidal thoughts toward his mother (shudder). So, while the John Cleever books make me distinctly uncomfortable, I still think they're sort of brilliant. Just in a gross, disturbing kind of way.
If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for language (no F-bombs); violence/gore; and sexual innuendo
To the FTC, with love: Another library