Science fiction and fantasy                                            

I Am Not A Serial Killer

by Dan Wells


There are some characters you don't expect yourself to like. Heading up most people's list of those they're least likely to empathise with would probably be serial-killing obsessed psychopaths. So John Wayne Cleaver is a brave choice for a central character.

John, an intense young man of 15, helps out in the family mortuary. He's smart, but his fascination with corpses and serial killers and a failure to understand the emotions of other people make it very difficult for him to form relationships. More worryingly, he's aware that he has all the risk factors for becoming a killer himself. He has laid down rules to govern his behaviour and to help him keep his darker impulses in check, but will it be enough when someone starts picking off victims in Clayton County where he lives?

The whole community is terrified by the deaths. John is determined to analyse the killer's methods and build up a psychological profile, and he begins by seeing it as something of a case study. But what if the murderer isn't human at all, but a demon? (We're told this in the first few pages, so that's not really a spoiler.) The race is on for John to find a way to stop the creature before it claims another victim, yet in order to succeed John needs to unleash his dark side. If he survives, will he ever be able to get himself back under control?

John Cleaver is intriguing, but his oddness isn't the only thing making I Am Not A Serial Killer compelling. Dan Wells has carefully researched things like embalming and serial killer profiling, and there's a certain lurid attraction to all the morbid and gory details. There are also some very funny moments in the book, when John gives us a glimpse of his sharp, black sense of humour.

The novel has a lot of light and shade, covering a range of emotions. There's poignancy in the way John relates to his absent father, and his interactions with his only friend, Max. He's confused by his feelings for Brooke, a girl his age. And throughout it all there's a slow build-up of tension whilst he battles with outer and inner demons.

Sociopaths may be outside the range of most people's experience, but I was surprised at the novel's level of realism. If you know anyone diagnosed with high-functioning autism / Asperger's syndrome, traits such as obsessive interests, hyper-focus, difficulties relating to people and the constant struggle to appear normal will be very familiar. So even when John's having the darkest thoughts it's easy to believe in him.

I Am Not A Serial Killer is very different from most urban horror, largely due to the sheer personality of its protagonist. He's a revelation, the kind of character you won't want to forget about in a hurry.

30th March 2010

Book Details

Year: 2009

Categories: Books

    Male Protagonist  
  Not For The Squeamish  

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Review © Ros Jackson
Read more about Dan Wells