John Wayne Cleaver is dangerous: he’s a sociopath with an obsession with serial killers. He’s not interested in becoming one himself, however, and so lives his life by strict rules designed to keep his monstrous self hidden.
But things get harder for John when a string of murders in his small hometown appear to be the work of a serial killer. The 15-year-old desperately wants to help catch this murderer — partially because he wishes to protect his neighbors, and partially as a way to prove to himself that he can rise above his baser, violent instincts.
Can John use his sociopathy to catch a killer without becoming one himself?
Quite a surprise
I Am Not a Serial Killer is a completely character-based story; John’s struggle between his two natures is at the core of the novel, and it’s awesome to read.
I’ve read stories and books about sociopaths (most notably Helter Skelter), but none in which the individual is actively trying to avoid following through on his or her criminal instincts. It makes for some interesting internal monologues.
The entire novel is cerebral, the first half more so. The story is told entirely from John’s perspective, and his lack of friends and less-than-ideal home life means that we are only able to really hear his thoughts and perspectives on things. His obsession with serial killers, how he structures his life to prevent himself from slipping into crime, and the irony of how helping his mother at their family-owned mortuary helps keep him sane.
But of course it takes thinking like a killer to catch one, which is precisely what John doesn’t want to do. However, he’s apparently the only one spotting patterns, the only one who can put himself in the shoes of a murderer. It’s fascinating to watch his internal struggle.
The one thing I wasn’t expecting was who the killer turned out to be, and the supernatural twist of it all. It was cool, but I think that Wells’ making the killer non-human was almost a cop-out. Suddenly it became less like a cerebral journey into the mind of a psychopath and more like, “Oh, I guess we get to read about him killing a demon.” It lost some of the tension and excitement.
It’s not really that surprising to think about a demon killing people — it’s a demon, after all. But a human killing people? That’s much more terrifying and interesting because it’s unexpected and not the norm.
Long story short
I thoroughly enjoyed Dan Wells’ I Am Not a Serial Killer. Like most YA novels these days it’s a trilogy, and fortunately both Mr. Monster and I Don’t Want to Kill You are already published and available. Which is good, because I can’t wait to see what John does next.