Monday, August 29, 2011

The Muse Reviews: I Am Not a Serial Killer

A YA novel for adults... A supernatural thriller... A look at the path of a budding sociopath (or a budding decent person who gets over his messed-up past)... And a great piece of writing.

How do you categorize a book that doesn't seem to fit neatly into a category? That's the challenge, and the pleasure, of reading Dan Wells' I Am Not a Serial Killer.

The story is set in a small town, and at its heart is 15-year-old John Wayne Cleaver, who may or not be a sociopath in the making. He's had a rough life, with an absentee father, and a dsyfunctional family that fails to maintain strong relationships. He's unhappy, struggling through life, and nothing motivates his interest half as much as the dead bodies that make it into his mother's mortuary.

Oh, and the study of serial killers. John likes that too. He's so fascinated by what they do and why they do it that he gets a ticket straight into therapy. It seems everyone thinks John may end up a very messed-up adult, including John himself. He's so concerned that he might become a serial killer that he lives by a set of rules designed to help himself be "normal."

But then a real murderer shows up in John's town. And John slowly realizes that between his knowledge of serial killers and his own willingness to go beyond boundaries that others wouldn't cross, he is the only person who can stop the killer. Of course, to do that, John is going to have to break his rules...

Author Dan Wells has come up with a very clever premise, no doubt about it. But if all he had was a premise, the book wouldn't be very exciting. What makes I Am Not a Serial Killer work is its relentless characterization of John as a likable but potentially dangerous teen, and its solid, tension-building structure. It is a hard book to put down.

Even the supernatural element, which is a little surprising at first, becomes something that makes a kind of sense. John is so determined not to become what he fears, and yet longs to become, that he wouldn't break his own rules for anything less than a force of nature. And though it probably sounds odd that John is sympathetic, Wells does a good job of making him so. You never forget that though he's smart, and though he's troubled, he's also just fifteen, and he is trying to do the right thing in his own way.

I Am Not a Serial Killer is part YA novel because its protagonist is a teen; yet it is very appropriate for adult audiences too. It's part natural thriller, part psychological thriller, part supernatural thriller. It's not exactly horror, and yet it is. It must have been hard to pitch to an agent.

But obviously someone saw its merit and published it, and rightly so. This is a very good book, worth checking out. And if you like it, there are two more in the series. (I'll be reading them.)

For more about Dan Wells or his book, visit the author's website. And if you read his book, I'd like to hear what you think about it.

Copyright (c) 2011 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.


  1. I've read all three books. They are excellent.

  2. Thanks for your review. I hadn't heard about this book before. I'll be sure to check it out. :)

  3. Jared, thanks for stopping by, and glad you liked the books. I didn't realize the third is already out. I'll have to correct my post. :)

    Piper, I think you'll like it.

  4. Great review. The books sounds very intriguing.

    We already connected on Twitter :). Now I'm a follower on your blog.

    Happy campaigning.

  5. Fantastic review. I'm actually looking for information on sociopaths, so this will be a great starting place!

    I love the idea of a teen struggling to build themselves into a decent human being against all odds.

    Does the ending leave you on an uplifting note?

  6. Thanks, Jessica! Yes, this book and its two sequels include info on sociopaths, and it's interesting. It would help you. Ending... Definitely yes on the first book. Second book is yes and no. Haven't read the final book in the trilogy yet. But I'll say this: Even though the character, John, struggles, he has good parts in it. So you'll root for him.


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