Please help me, I begged her silently.
"I'm fine."
I'm not fine, and I am going to kill someone, and I don't know if I'll be able to stop.
"I'm fine, let's go back.”
--John Cleaver

I Am Not a Serial Killer is the 2010 debut novel of writer Dan Wells and the first in the original John Cleaver I am Not a Serial Killer trilogy. There is another trilogy featuring John Cleaver coming up.

Spoiler-Free Synopsis:

Fifteen year old John Wayne Cleaver is "fascinated" with serial killers. He doesn't like to use the word "obsessed" because it has too many negative connotations. He reads about them, writes about them, and talks about them with anyone who will listen-- much to the concern of his loving (if slightly suffocating) mother. He works in his aunt and mother's mortuary-- as he has since he was eight years old-- and enjoys working with the dead. He has a fascination with fire, as well, and when he was young, he used to kill gophers that got caught in his fathers traps, then dissect them. His therapist, Dr. Neblin, has recently diagnosed John with antisocial personality disorder. John cannot feel empathy, or make real human emotional connections. He demonstrates all three traits of the Macdonald Triad, and he is pretty sure he is going to become a serial killer.

John does not want to become a serial killer. He studies them, and whatever they do, he does not. He has Rules in his head to stop him from any activities that might lead down a darker path. When he finds himself fixating on a person, he forces himself not to think about them for a week. When he wants to hurt someone, he forces himself to give them a compliment. He never lets himself near animals, and he has made a friend because normal people have friends, even if he finds that friend distasteful. Fate, he feels, has destined him to become a serial killer, and John is doing his best to defy it.

Unfortunately, when a real killer starts hunting down the people in his sleepy little town, John's mask begins to crack. His fascination leads him to strike up an investigation of his own, and soon he discovers more about this killer than he or anyone in town was ever prepared for...

Quick Opinion: This book is a fascinating read and while I haven't read the sequels yet, they are on order from Amazon right now and I will be getting to them shortly.

Long Opinion (SPOILERS!)

This book is fantastic, but it threw me for a loop. The book is from John's point of view as he tries to maintain his facade of normalcy. We see his every thought as he struggles to appear normal and keep his homicidal urges-- what he calls "the Monster"-- in check. And the first half of the book is an intriguing character study combined with a crime-thriller as John tries to find the real killer while trying not to become on himself.

The second half of the book?

So John finally tracks down the killer, witnesses him murder someone and. . .

Complete genre-shift.

The killer is a shape-shifting demon. Furthermore, it's someone John knows. Where did it come from (aside from the previous towns where its killed people, I mean)? It's not revealed (though perhaps the rest of the series will explain that). We do learn why it's there, and why it kills people.

The rest of the book is John, realizing that he can't exactly go to the police and say the killer is a monster, trying to kill the monster himself. He must study the monster, every aspect of its life, and to do so he needs to break down the wall of Rules that have held his own personal demons in check all these years. His mother and therapist grow more and more concerned as he sinks deeper and deeper into obsession, and as if fixating on the killer isn't enough, John finds himself starting to stalk the only girl his age in town who can stand his presence-- something he did not intend to happen.

This leads to a really interesting juxtaposition in the book regarding John and the killer: John is a sociopath who cannot feel real emotional attachment to those around him (though not for lack of trying). The best he can do is mimic the emotions people around him display and study them, learning what is and is not the appropriate reaction. The demon, however, actually does feel human emotions. We find out later that his motive for staying in town is love, and that though he does kill people, he does so out of necessity and takes no joy in it. Thus the bad guy of the story, despite being a demonic shape-shifter from who knows where, is (as far as John is concerned) more human than John is-- something that infuriates John to no end.

This book seriously threw me for a loop. I thought at first that the revelation of the monster was a dream sequence. I even skipped ahead a few pages to see if John wakes up. Nope! Demon. I honestly didn't mind; while the first half of the book isn't bad by any stretch, I always am up for some supernatural shenaniganry, and the book continues on with the crime-thriller/character study aspects that initially draw the reader in. If anything, the inclusion of the supernatural actually helps define John's character more as he now has to contend with things so far beyond the realm of the norm that his Rules cannot cover it.

I highly recommend this book. It's not for the faint of stomach, though: there are some pretty grisly descriptions of mortuary protocol and corpse-care, described in loving detail.

The other books in the original trilogy are:

Mr. Monster
I Don't Want to Kill You

The next series so far is:
Next of Kin, a novella.
The Devil's Only Friend, due to come out in 2015.

I'm a good person because I know what good people are supposed to act like, and I copy them.
--John Cleaver

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