Book Review: I Am Not A Serial Killer by Dan Wells
TLDR: I Am Not a Serial Killer is amazing and I would probably sell organs to get the rest of the books in the series, if there was a short supply.
Long version: The name Dan Wells kept popping up on all of the Goodreads lists that I searched. It’s usually of the dark variety, such as murder or serial killers, etc. I had skimmed a few reviews of I Am Not a Serial Killer for about ten seconds and many of them weren’t positive. There didn’t seem to be any complaints about his writing or pacing or storyline. Actually, people seemed to sing his writing praises. Most complaints seemed to be of the “I thought it was one kind of book but ended up a different kind of book” variety. So people were mad because they thought wrong? Interesting.
I Am Not a Serial Killer sounded really good. So I put it on my to-be-read list for later. Then one day, I picked it up. It was time to be angry about thinking I was getting one kind of book and then get into another kind of book. And it was one of the best decisions ever because I haven’t read ANY OTHER AUTHOR SINCE. True story.
Here’s a little bit more about I Am Not a Serial Killer.
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.
Dan Wells’ debut novel is the first volume of a trilogy that will keep you awake and then haunt your dreams.
Okay okay, so back to the review. We meet John Wayne Cleaver who is a teenage boy who not only has a fascination with serial killers, but also believes that he is destined to become one. He’s been clinically diagnosed as a sociopath, but he does a good job of reading people’s emotions through their expressions. His mother owns a mortuary and so he’s used to touching and helping prepare dead bodies. In fact, it’s therapeutic for him. It also helps to curb the urges that he has to, you know…KILL.
In fact, he follows several rules that he’s created to keep other people safe–to keep him from killing. Examples are: When he gets angry with someone and starts to imagine killing them, he forces himself to smile at them and compliment them. As you can imagine, it makes for a lot of awkward, amazing comedy.
But then of course, a serial killer comes to his town and John has to fight his urges to kill even more while simultaneously plotting to kill the killer. It’s also been turned into a movie, which I found out about and refused to watch until I finished the book. But it’s kind of a departure from the book, it’s still good. It was slower than the book. But it’s worth watching.
But back to the book, there are so many things I love about this book. So I figured I would make a list, kind of like John’s list of rules, about what I loved.
My Favorite Things About I Am Not A Serial Killer
1. I love, love, love, love John Wayne Cleaver. He’s so perfectly imperfect. He’s troubled and confused and sometimes downright dangerous. And what I love is that he’s not a complete anti-hero. At time he borders on being villainous in the best possible way. But the thing I love about Dan Wells and his writing, is that the moment that I begin to trust John, the moment I let my guard down and start to believe that John is a good guy, Dan unravels it instantly and pushes me back to square one. Only expert writing can do this. Only an amazing writer can make you care about someone who has so many awful inclinations and flaws. It’s because of this that John Wayne Cleaver is one of my favorite characters OF ALL TIME.
2. Hilarity. Oh my god this book is hilarious and witty and quick and sometimes the humor is really, really sarcastic and dry. And what I loved is that Dan gives you credit as a reader to get it. It drives me crazy when a book makes a joke and then the author steps in and tries to explain why the jokes was funny and what it meant and just in case you didn’t get it, let me over-explain it again. But not Dan. Nope. Not once does he go out of his way to over-explain his jokes. You have to be quick to get it the first time and it will leave you grinning like an idiot as you power through this book. Trust me, once you stat to read this, you wont want to stop. Not for work or for food or really, for anything. I also enjoyed the talk of serial killers here. I’m fascinated with them, just like John, and so I found the facts that are interspersed through the book very interesting.
3. Suffer with him. I prefer books that are written within our world. I can’t quite figure out why, other than I love books that make our world and daily lives feel just a little less boring. This book takes place in the real world. You see the doldrums of real life for John and his supporting cast, and honestly, I felt a sense of kinship. It sucks that I have to work but as I dragged myself into the office on a Monday, John was there too, dragging himself to school and arguing with his mother and feeling the confusion of having a deadbeat dad out there who has decided to not be involved and the urge to kill and the desire to step across the line as a murderer. He has problems just like you and me.
4. Excitement. John’s life may be boring at times, but this story IS NOT. The pacing is FAST FAST FAST and in the time it takes you to eat dinner, the bodies have piled up. I loved that every second of the book, I found myself blurting, “OMG, I have to find out what happens next.” Literally. Out loud. It drove my roomies nuts.
5. Everything you think you know, you don’t. I’ve read so many books that I liked, where I could guess the ending. This is NOT like that. Everything you think you know, you don’t.
You think you know what the book is about?
You think you know John and what he’ll do?
You think you know who is killing people?
You think you know how this will all end?
Spoiler alert…YOU DON’T.
It’s the best thing ever and I loved not knowing anything at all other than I needed to finish this as soon as possible so I could know everything.
When I finished, I immediately ordered ALL of the books in the series. Yes, all of them. ALL OF THEM. No joke. I am on #4 in the series now and I’m getting worried. What the hell am I going to do when I’m done? Honestly, I don’t know. I just really like this world and this character and I don’t ever, ever, ever want it to end. I Am Not a Serial Killer seems to have ruined me for any other books.
Have a really good Monday, okay? And just remember that the average person walks past 7 serial killers in their lifetime.
Great review, Jolene! This one is next up on my “to read” list!
Thanks bud! I hope you enjoy it!