Book Review: I Don’t Want to Kill You, by Dan Wells

I recently bought Dan Wells’ book The Hollow City, and had intended to read it first before finding I Don’t Want to Kill You, the third and final installment in his “Serial Killer/John Cleaver” series. Then a partially-forgotten hold request at the library came through and I suddenly found myself with two Wells books to read. I picked I Don’t Want to Kill You to read first, mainly because it came with a deadline to return it.

That’s not to say I wasn’t eagerly anticipating this book. This is the conclusion of the series that got me interested enough in Wells to pre-order his latest book in hardcover. That just doesn’t happen with me. I don’t even pre-order Orson Scott Card books. Not that Card doesn’t need my money, too, but Card is established and will do fine with or without me. I want to make sure Dan Wells is still writing for years to come.

Anyway, the last book in the series, Mr. Monster, left off with John Cleaver, having survived a particularly nasty encounter with a demon and the subsequent dumping by his girlfriend, and finding himself with the phone number of a demon, angrily and cockily challenges the demon on the other end of the phone to come and get him so he can kill it too.

In I Don’t Want to Kill You it does. Newly-christened demon-hunter John soon finds himself with yet another string of murders in his little town that’s still reeling from two previous strings of murders. But his life is looking up in other ways. With his new purpose in life, his sociopathic side, Mr. Monster, is mostly under control. And suddenly one of the prettiest, most popular girls in school is chasing him. What’s more, she actually finds John’s preoccupation with catching the serial killer interesting, and she becomes a willing partner. What could be better for John?

Except this time he’s bitten off more than he can chew, and his overconfidence could prove his undoing.

This final chapter is every bit as good as its predecessors, and probably better. It’s certainly the most satisfying as John finally comes to grips with most of the difficulties in his life. Wells is in excellent form, and while the tensions levels aren’t nearly as high in this book, it’s still a page-turner. I read it in only a few hours.

I thought I had Wells this time. I picked up on the plot twist early on—long before John did. Except it wasn’t that important a twist, and he had several others to hit me with. The ending itself was, as Wells often says on the Writing Excuses podcast, “surprising yet inevitable”. I didn’t see it coming. I didn’t want it to happen. And yet it was the only conceivable way to resolve the plot.

One place Wells shines is his ability to keep the story fresh. All three books have John battling demons, but it’s different every time. You can’t assume you know what’s going on. And ultimately the book isn’t about the demons—it’s about what is happening to John as a result of his battles with the demons. It’s never a question about whether John will defeat the demons—the book is in first-person perspective, after all. It’s about what that victory will cost. The cost is different each time, but arguably greater and greater each time.

The cost this time is very high.

And once again Wells doesn’t spend a lot of time ratcheting down the tension and relishing the resolution. If anything he seems to delight in giving us an ending that dumps fresh salt on the wound. At least it felt that way. Once again he left me an emotional wreck. It may be because Wells is willing to drag us to such low points through the course of the story that the return to “normalcy” at the end is such a strong, emotional contrast.

All-in-all, it’s a satisfying end to an interesting series, although he leaves the door open for a future series as well—and I’d be interested in reading it. But for now, I’m on to The Hollow City…after I finish the books that have slipped in front of it in line, and get the book back from my brother who kindly took it with him to Wells’ possibly last book signing in the US for the next year at least. I couldn’t make it, so he agreed to get it signed for me. For his troubles I offered to let him read it before he gives it back.