“That figures,” said Mom, stepping in from the landing and closing the door. “The only member of this family with a normal relationship is a sociopath.”
― Dan Wells,
Mr. Monster is the 2010 follow-up to I am not a Serial Killer, the first novel of the John Cleaver series by Dan Wells. It continues the story of John as he struggles against his sociopathic tendencies while dealing with a string of killings in his small home town. While this sounds like a retread of the first novel, it isn’t, as this book’s plot dovetails beautifully with its predecessor, and John is in a much different mental an emotional state than the previous book. Warning: Beyond this point, this review will contain some spoilers about the plot of I am not a Serial Killer, so be warned if you haven’t read the previous book. Here’s a picture of a fluffy white cat to provide some spoiler space. I promise that I didn’t pick a picture of a white cat for any particular reason.
Okay, so those of you who are still here know exactly why I picked a picture of a white cat, and I’m only kind of sorry.
Mr. Monster is an excellent follow up to the previous novel. When we return to John as a character, we find him changed by the events of the first book. After submitting to his Serial Killer tendencies and stalking and killing Mr. Crowley (Who was himself the murderer in the first novel) John finds himself in less and less control of Mr. Monster, the dark aspects of his personality he associates with his killer urges. He’s loosened up on several of his rules, and is a lot closer to the edge than ever before. The fact that he has changed between stories makes this book feel just as fresh and tense as its predecessor.
What I Loved
As I mentioned both in my previous review and above, John Cleaver is such a fascinating character to get to know. In this book especially we see him fighting against parts of himself that he hates, while also wishing he could give in to his urges. In another novel he would easily take on the role of sympathetic villain, but instead he is cast so firmly as the hero of this book. We’ll see as the series goes on, but John may take the cake as my favorite heroic character of all time. Sure, Luke Skywalker had to deal with the reality that the most evil person in the Galaxy was his father, but John has to deal with the fact that he literally has ‘Darth Vader’ whispering in his ear constantly, fighting to break out. I cannot think of a hero who has overcome greater internal adversity than John.
We see John grow in this book, facing new external challenges both from his family, and from his relationships with other young people. As her draws closer to Brooke during this book you both want him to get to know her better, and also fear what would happen if he does. Dan Wells has crafted Johns arc so well, because just as we’re experiencing these conflicting emotions, and are unsure how to handle them, John is facing the same dilemmas.
Even though the basics of this plot are relatively similar to the previous book, it never felt like it was retreading the same territory. In the previous book John was only ever in immediate physical danger at the very end of the novel. In this book John is the target of the new killer, and we see him being toyed with psychologically. The first proper appearance of the killer about two-thirds of the way through the book came as a total surprise to me, and I was unable to put the book down from then on. Dan Wells knows how to build tension in a plot, and he knows how to deliver on the promise that tension makes.
What I Didn’t Love
Once again, this book could have been twice as long and I’d have been happy. It is likely the perfect length of book to be supported by this plot, but I really wish I could get more time in John’s head. It’s unsettling to read about him and his train of thought, but it’s also comforting to know I can put the book down at any time and hug my wife and children. I understand the reasons for keeping books short, but if any character is crying out for more page time its John Wayne Cleaver.
Secondly, this book gets very dark at the end. I’m not a fan of horror, and this book doesn’t quite cross the border into pure horror, but it certainly dabbles. Some of the imagery towards in the final third had my stomach turning, and I was glad this story was in print and not a more visual medium. This is not a weakness in Wells writing; rather its strength, but it could certainly turn some away. Again, even though the protagonist is a 16 year old, I would hesitate to let kids read this. The ending plays out like a particularly dark episode of Criminal Minds with a supernatural twist, and that show is often too dark for me to watch.
Final Thoughts Below