This is the second book in the John Cleaver trilogy by Dan Wells. The first, “I Am Not A Serial Killer” introduces the character of John Wayne Cleaver, a teenage boy obsessed with serial killers, and a certified sociopath, who is convinced he is destined to become a serial killer himself. In order to keep it under control he constructed a series of rules he lives by. But in the first book he has to break those rules and indulge the his inner demon, which he calls Mr. Monster, in order to track down and kill a real demon who is on a killing spree in his small town. Once he lets Mr. Monster out of the bottle he’s out to stay.
The second book, “Mr. Monster”, begins a short time after the first ends, with John being watched by an FBI agent still in town investigating the series of murders John put a stop to. Mr. Monster is still hungry for more murder, and John is struggling to keep control. Add to that the increased attentions of the most beautiful girl in school (who he has nightmares about killing), and a new string of murders in town, and John’s world rapidly spins out of control.
This book has an entirely different feel to it than the first. In the first book we know early on who and what John is up against. This time the serial killer seems more “typical”, though in many ways much more disturbing. As usual, Wells doesn’t pull any punches. He doesn’t get more graphic than necessary, but he doesn’t sugar-coat it, either.
Still, the majority of the horror is suspense rather than gore. Wells even manages to make what would otherwise be a normal, fun date between John and the love interest wrought with suspense. And once again John is unable to solve the problem with violence, but rather with careful cunning. No climactic slug-fests to wrap up the book, it’s more a game of chess to the death.
Wells is on top of his game. He crams a lot into a relatively short book (I finished it in about five hours), and while I didn’t realize just how tight he was winding me, when it was all over I experienced a very palpable release. I felt as if I’d been traumatized, too. That release is short-lived, though. He ends the book with one last turn of the thumbscrews as he lays the groundwork for book three.
I enjoy Wells style. I’m not sure if it’s a bug or a feature that I find myself skimming ahead on occasions. I suppose it could be because he gets too wordy and I just want to get to the good stuff, but I suspect it’s more likely that the suspense is just too much to read slowly.
He writes a tight novel. Very little is throw-away text.
But perhaps most importantly he has created a fascinating character in John Cleaver. Wells admits being worried about whether or not he could get readers to like a character who is incapable of feeling and understanding normal human emotions. He needn’t have worried; he pulls it off admirably. I don’t just like John, I am deeply wound up in his battle for his own soul. I want John to defeat Mr. Monster. I want him to have a normal life. I want him to end up with Brooke.
I wonder if we actually relate with John to a degree. I think any of us who have ever entertained giving in to our worst selves, who have struggled with some form of anti-social behavior, can find a little bit of ourselves in John. If he can be saved then we should be okay, too. If he is irredeemable then it lessens our hope for ourselves. John has to succeed.
And I’ll find out soon if he does in “I Don’t Want To Kill You.” There is no way I can stop reading now.