Saturday, 8 January 2011
Review: I Don't Want To Kill You by Dan Wells (John Cleaver Book 3)
Sixteen-year-old John Wayne Cleaver has always known he’s different, but not because he only has one friend (and doesn’t much like him) and not because he regularly helps out in his mother’s mortuary. He’s different because he recognizes the classic signs of an incipient serial killer in his own personality, and he’s created a rigid set of rules to follow to keep his darker nature, the one he calls Mr Monster in check. But John discovers it’s the personality traits he so fears that put him in the best position to save the people of his town from a series of horrific and disturbing killers...
Back in March 2010 I wrote this about Dan Wells when I reviewed Mr Monster, the second book in his John Cleaver trilogy that started with I Am Not A Serial Killer: "....the likes of Jeffery Deaver, James Patterson and Jack Kerley are no doubt already glancing nervously over their serial-killer-novel-writing shoulders for fear that Dan Wells is about to steal all of their glory." And nothing has changed in the ten months since then as I Don't Want To Kill You is yet another stunning addition to the horror/serial killer genre, and in my opinion the best book in the trilogy.
For me, the books' greatest strengths have always been in the voice of teen sociopath John Cleaver. By writing the books in the first person we have really been able to get inside the head of Wells's protagonist, and it has been a genuine pleasure to witness the way his character has developed over the three books. He started off as a very confused young man, with a rigid set of self-imposed rules and something of a social outcast at school, and now by book three he is a fully-fledged vigilante monster hunter, a self-appointed guardian of his home town, Clayton. And he even has a girlfriend who likes him for the way he is (not that she knows the full story of course).
Having already dispatched two of the ancient monsters that have been preying on the local population, at the end of Mr Monster John managed to get his hands on the mobile phone of one of these, and with it set in motion what he hopes will be a trap for a third, the otherwise anonymous Nobody. Of course, John has no idea who Nobody is, and when (or even if) she will take the bait and head for Clayton. His methods of trying to detect her arrival are more than a little creepy - he observes (for that read stalks) anyone who seems to be doing something out of the ordinary, often calling their houses and implying that he is stalking their children, just to gauge their reaction. This is so unnerving that it leaves a slightly nasty taste in the mouth, but he is after all a sociopath, and in his mind the end would certainly justify the means. And then someone is killed, and early signs are that it is the work of a notorious serial killer who has been operating out of Georgia. Could this be the Nobody that John has been waiting for?
John also has to contend with emotions that he had previously thought it impossible for him to feel. When he developed a closer relationship with long-time friend Brooke in Mr Monster, he still spent most of his time imagining her laid out on the mortuary table. Now he has to accept that he can feel affection for another human being, and with this comes a confusion that he hasn't felt before. He also has to confront another uncomfortable fact - he cannot save everybody, although the anger he feels when first one, and then another girl from his school commits suicide is understandable; in his words: "What's the point of saving someone's life if she's just going to kill herself anyway?"
It is always interesting to look back over a series or trilogy and see how a writer has developed and/or matured during that time, and this is definitely the case for Dan Wells. I Am Not A Serial Killer was a fairly straightforward horror/thriller, albeit with a fascinating main character, the likes of which we had never see before in YA literature. Mr Monster showed great character development, and a few more plot twists than we had seen previously. In I Don't Want To Kill You Dan Wells's storytelling skills reach an even greater level, with his plotting so tight you certainly won't guess all of the plot twists, and maybe not any of them at all.
I am not going to say any more about the story as this could spoil it for the legion of fans who have loved the first two books as much as I have. I will say that it is very likely to scare you or creep you out in places, but you may also find yourself chuckling from time to time thanks to the elements of gloriously dark humour, and you may even find yourself shedding a few tears as well. However, I do feel the need to say that although this is a great book, and the ending is brilliant, I am also very disappointed that we will not be seeing more of John Cleaver - I hope Dan Wells has got a new project up his writer's sleeve that will be just as disturbing as this trilogy has been. Thank you Mr Wells for giving me so much shiver-down-my-spine entertainment over the past couple of years... I'm now off to watch the first episode in the new series of Criminal Minds.