Ah, Dan Wells. With his first book, I Am Not A Serial Killer, he made me a fan of his stuff. With his second, Mr. Monster, he gave me confirmation that I spent my time well reading his books. Really well. Now with this third novel, and final John Cleaver book, he has, in my mind, transcended the position of writer, and gone immediately to god-like status. I Am Not a Serial Killer has become my go-to book to give as a present, no matter who the person, because I’m confident they will enjoy the read. And I’m just as confident they will enjoy the second even more, as I did, and now I’m absolutely certain they will be possessed by the greatness of I Don’t Want to Kill You. Dan Wells has done it again.
My name is JOHN CLEAVER and I’ve killed two people. But I don’t wan to KILL you.
The men I killed were DEMONS: actual, physical MONSTERS, who survive by taking the bodies, identities, and lives of innocent people. They are PREDATORS, and we are their PREY, and I’m the only one who can stop them because I’m a predator too. One by one, I’ll kill every KILLER in the world.
My name is John Cleave, and I don’t want to KILL you. But I will if I have to.
John Cleaver is back. All of his serial-killer obsessed, sociopathic, emotionless and lovable self. With two demons down, John figures it’s about time he starts looking for the next one - the vaguely named Nobody - before it starts looking for him. But of course, the supposedly quiet little town of Clayton, doesn’t stay quiet for long. When a new set of killings occur, John can’t help but investigate on his own. And, well, other stuff happens after that...
Since finishing this book, I spent quite a bit of time reflecting on what makes it so damn good. I don’t know that I’ve come up with a definitive answer, but I have to come to the conclusion that as always, it isn’t up to one single thing. John has a lot to do with it.
That Dan Wells can make the reader invest so much in a character that is a self-admitted (and diagnosed) sociopath is a testament to his skill as a writer. It’s a case of rooting for the underdog, and in the case of John it’s as extreme an underdog as you can get - the asocial, sociopathic type. This was true of John in both I Am Not A Serial Killer and Mr. Monster, but it’s ever more prevalent in I Don’t Want To Kill You as John actually attempts to immerse himself socially more than he ever has before. It’s been a steady progression throughout the books, so it makes sense that the final book would be the best at this. As it in almost every respect.
On a more superficial level, I Don’t Want To Kill You delivers a mystery plot that’s just as strong, if not better, as the ‘original’ from I Am Not A Serial Killer (I didn’t think it was as good in Mr. Monster). It’s difficult to go into details here without spoiling anything for this book or the previous ones (why haven’t your read those yet?) but it would be unfair not to at least mention the surface plot. It does have one, and it’s good one at that.
From figuring out who the killer is, to what they want, to trying to upholding his self-appointed duty of town demon-protector, John has his hands full. With so many plot-elements and due to Wells is expert pacing and plotting, I Don’t Want To Kill You truly is a rich, disturbing and compelling read. I could afford no more than one sitting to get through this book - like its predecessors it had the almost unhealthy quality of making me read through it in as little time as I could.
When finishing up a series, it’s always interesting to look back and take a look at the evolution of the plot, the characters and the writer. Though already excellent at his craft in I Am Not A Serial Killer, Wells has progressed as a writer to become something even greater. The overall story-arch couldn’t have ended up in a more different place than I could have anticipated at the end of the first book, or the second for that matter, but I’m glad for it. John, of course, has been one hell of a character to see grow. From his originally curious disposition he has grown to become a more mature character and it was wonderful to see where all the difficulties, the challenges brought him to in the end.
I couldn’t finish up this review without praising Dan Wells and his books some more. The John Cleaver books, you’ll have understood, feature among my very favorite books. Their appeal is wide - there’s something in them for YA-enthusiasts just as much as there is for the horror-fan, and I’m convinced that any willing to give them a try will find something to love in them to. Since I cracked the first page of his first book open, Wells’ books thrilled me, made me laugh, disturbed me and generated so many other emotional responses from me that it would require too much time to list them all. I cannot recommend them enough. They’re simply brilliant. Those who enjoyed the first two books will find a worthy conclusion to this series in I Don’t Want To Kill You. Thankfully, fans shouldn’t be left without any Dan Wells for too long - he already has a number of other writing projects coming this way.
My Rating: 5 out of 5
Reading Age: 14 and up
If you haven’t seen it, check out this interview I ran with him back in June - very interesting stuff on his part.
Dan Well's Website: http://www.fearfulsymmetry.net/
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