Review: I Am Not A Serial Killer (John Cleaver #1) by Dan Wells

Genre: Young Adult, Horror
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Tor Books (March 30th 2010)
How I got this book: Bought
Links: Amazon Goodreads

Blurb from Goodreads:

John Wayne Cleaver is dangerous, and he knows it.

He’s spent his life doing his best not to live up to his potential.

He’s obsessed with serial killers, but really doesn’t want to become one. So for his own sake, and the safety of those around him, he lives by rigid rules he’s written for himself, practicing normal life as if it were a private religion that could save him from damnation.

Dead bodies are normal to John. He likes them, actually. They don’t demand or expect the empathy he’s unable to offer. Perhaps that’s what gives him the objectivity to recognize that there’s something different about the body the police have just found behind the Wash-n-Dry Laundromat—and to appreciate what that difference means.

Now, for the first time, John has to confront a danger outside himself, a threat he can’t control, a menace to everything and everyone he would love, if only he could.

My rating: 3.5/5 Stars – Could’ve been better, but I liked it overall.


Imagine if Dexter (from the television show Dexter) was fifteen years old and killed demons instead of people – that’s this book.  High schooler John Wayne Cleaver is a sociopath trying to control his desire to kill using a set of rules to regulate his behavior.  He tries to imitate normal people, but it’s hard to be normal when your family owns a mortuary, you’re obsessed with serial killers, and you’re emotionally isolated from everyone around you.  It struck me that John is essentially a young Dexter, and while the story is not quite a rip off, it still bears striking similarities to the internal conflicts and themes dealt with in the television show.

Of course, the major departure from Dexter is in the existence of supernatural creatures – demons – that John has to stop from murdering people in his hometown.  To me, the supernatural element felt out of place somehow, like it didn’t belong in a story about a teenage sociopath who’s already fighting his own internal monster.  I kept thinking that it could have been an excellent story without the demon thing, but perhaps my Dexter comparison unfairly influenced my viewpoint on this.

As far as the characters, I really do sympathize with John… until he starts fantasizing about strangling a girl at school; then I am brutally reminded that John’s total lack of empathy makes him capable of extreme violence.  Still, John is interesting and complex, and the author does an excellent job of making you feel like you’re really in the mind of a sociopath.  John’s interactions with his mom are heartbreaking, and the dysfunctional family dynamic makes the story more emotional and realistic.

Even though I’m a little disappointed with who dies in the end, it’s still a well crafted, suspenseful thriller.  The multifaceted characters are compelling, and John is an unusual hero whose dark thoughts make this a chilling, slightly disturbing read.  I Am Not A Serial Killer is the first book in a trilogy, but it stands very well on its own.  I may read the next installment, or I may just watch Dexter the next time I need a sympathetic serial killer fix.

Reading Order:
I Am Not A Serial Killer
Mr. Monster
I Don’t Want to Kill You

Also reviewed at:
The Book Smugglers – 7/10


About Lesley

I love big dogs, ravioli, and all things nerdy. Books are my crack.
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