By Dan Wells (Official Webpage)
Buy the book here: I Am Not A Serial Killer (John Cleaver)
I actually considered this book for review mostly because of my familiarity with the Writing Excuses podcast, which is hosted by Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, and Howard Taylor. Seeing as I love the podcast, as well as Brandon's books and Howard's web-comic, I felt I owed it to Dan to read his first novel. Not to mention the fact I took a class that had all three of them, at some point during the semester, lecturing to the class.
I Am Not a Serial Killer is a novel that Dan himself admits doesn't really fall into a particular subcategory with regard to audience. In some countries, it was marketed as a Young Adult novel, while in others it was presented as a straight Adult novel. After a reading, I would recommend the book for ages 15+. The book contains a considerable amount of violence and gore, often presented from an apathetic or uncaring standpoint, as well as adult content and disturbing scenes.
I Am Not a Serial Killer stars John Wayne Cleaver, a fifteen year old sociopath obsessed with serial killers. His morbid obsession is further accented by the fact that the family business involves copious amounts of time around dead bodies: they work in a mortuary. It is here where John gets his first view of a serial killer's victim: a man murdered and gutted behind a local laundromat. John, who has a therapist and his own personal "rules" to keep his believed homicidal tendencies in check, finds he can't keep away from this serial killer. His perception is less idolizing and more of general interest which, after a time, changes to disgust and hatred. An interesting note is John is never really scared of the serial killer, who is revealed about halfway through the book. Rather, he simply analyzes the killer's every action, and goes to great lengths to stop him. The climax of the book, which I will not spoil, escalates as John unleashes the "monster" inside of him, the suppressed serial killer tendencies, held behind bars by his rules he's followed. It's an interesting ending, where John changes quite dramatically to a misguided teenager to a dangerous, potential killer.
Reviewers love to compare this novel to the TV series Dexter, which I have not seen, so my review is written without prior knowledge of the show. As a general read, I found the novel started off quick, pushed me forward through the story very fast until it's satisfying, and quite creepy, ending. This is a good testament to Dan's skill as an author; I couldn't put the book down until I'd finish it. It was a reasonably short, but sweet read; I took about 4 hours to finish it, but others may take longer.
It is important to note that there is a strong supernatural or fantasy theme in the book, especially pertaining to the serial killer. Those who follow Dan closer might not be surprised by this, but as someone expecting a straight serial killer book, the elements rattled me somewhat. The only time I put the book down to get a drink was when the supernatural elements were revealed. However, as the book continued and the mystery behind the "demon," as John calls the serial killer/monster is fleshed out, the book had its meat hooks back into me. I felt it worked for the story, despite the initial conflict, though more information about the monster would be appreciated. From what I've read, Dan goes into more depth in the sequel, Mr. Monster (I Am Not a Serial Killer is the first book in an intended trilogy), which is out in the UK but not here yet in the US. I plan on reading this book as soon as it crossed the ocean to the Land of Opportunity.
Dan's prose must be complimented. Something Sanderson wrote in his blurb on the back was how masterful he felt the prose was, and I'd be inclined to agree. Dan's pacing is near immaculate, his word choices very good. I was never lost in the story at any time, a testament to Dan's stellar writing. The only issue I found was the voice of the narrator: for a fifteen-year-old, he certainly didn't sound much like one; he seemed older, much older. While John explains to the reader he is extremely apathetic, which allows him to think about and describe dramatic and gory scenes without batting much of an eyelid, it is still difficult to believe that a teenager would think in the ways John does. He seemed more like someone in their early twenties. Again, this could be attributed to his incredible maturity and near-genius intelligence, but it would have been nice to have a few "I'm fifteen!" bones thrown at me.
Overall, I Am Not a Serial Killer is a fantastic debut novel, one of the strongest I've read. It certainly lives up to it's name: the novel is gory, gruesome, and genuinely thrilling and disturbing throughout. For fans of horror and fantasy, it is certainly a book to investigate. Those of less stronger stomachs, however, need not apply.