“I’m a good person,” I said, “because I know what good people are supposed to act like, and I copy them.”
― Dan Wells,
I Am Not a Serial Killer is the debut novel by author Dan Wells, and the first book in the John Cleaver series. It follows the story of the titular John Wayne Cleaver, a 15 year old boy, diagnosed with sociopathy and with early warnings signs for serial killer tendencies. John lives by a strict set of rules to keep himself in check and keep those around him safe, but when a string of grisly murders begins in his small home town John finds himself slipping closer to the edge. Tightly plotted and riveting, I Am Not a Serial killer is one of the tensest books I’ve read in years, and has a surprising amount of heart for a book so focused on death.
What I Loved
I normally read long novels, an 800 page book is on the low side of average for me, and as a result I find myself discounting taking the time to read smaller novels, feeling that I won’t have time to emotionally connect with the characters. At 271 pages, with big margins and large print, this book is an incredibly fast read. Despite that, I was emotionally invested in the main character from the start, which is saying something. John Cleaver shouldn’t be a likeable character, he is inherently unsympathetic, but somehow it still works. John lives by a strict moral code, even though his brain is unable to understand why the things society deems as “wrong” are wrong. As one character says, John is “a good person with a strong will and a high moral code”, and you really feel his struggle against his internal demons.
The plot of this book was exciting and interesting. I’ll admit that I had puzzled out facets of the story long before they are explicitly stated on page, but that never took away from the tension that Wells’ builds. He expertly creates an atmosphere of unease by giving us conflict both from outside, the series of brutal killings, and inside, Johns struggles with his own nature. This meant that when everything comes to its inevitable climax, I was on the edge of my seat, and I felt the story could truly head in any direction.
This next point is verging dangerously close to spoiler territory, so I’m going to tread lightly, but I loved how Dan Wells developed the character of the killer in this book. He serves as such a foil to John, and he ultimately teaches John an important lesson about human relationships, one he desperately needed. Doctor Neblin, John’s therapist was also an excellent character, and he felt authentic, he reminded of real life therapists I’ve met, and you could tell he truly cares for and believes in John.
What I Didn’t Love
This book was far too short for my tastes. It kept the plot moving and the tension building, but I’d have loved to have it be longer. The final confrontation also felt a little bit rushed, though it hit all the notes I was hoping it would.
This is a spoiler, but this book had some supernatural elements in it. I feel that they fit with the overall story, and actually add to it, but there is nothing in the description of this book that indicates those elements are present. It’s a very minor complaint, as again, I think the story would be less impactful without them, but it bears mentioning.
Lastly, there are a couple of scenes towards the end of the book that I found fairly upsetting to read. This book is often marketed as a Young Adult novel, even though Wells did not write it as such. I feel like there are scenes in this book that would be very problematic for people in the younger range of that age bracket to read. If you’re considering letting your child read this book, I’d be sure you’ve read it first and can discuss it with them, and I would never recommend it to anyone under about 16.
Final Thoughts Below
Review: I Am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells (John Cleaver #1)
- Wonderfully suspenseful plot
- Lots of heart
- Well developed Villain
- Main character is extremely easy to bond with
- Too Short
- Ending is a little rushed
- Not Ideal for the audience it is often marketed towards