Wednesday, June 02, 2010

I Am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells

Dan Wells has pulled off quite a feat with his debut novel, I Am Not A Serial Killer--he's written probably the creepiest book I've read this year (and since I've read 3 Val McDermid novels this year, that's saying something), but more importantly he got me to care for and root for the creepy protagonist. (I'll try to stop using forms of the word 'creepy' now). He got me to read the book with the hook, and the promised thrill, but he won me over with charm and characters.

Rather than try to summarize the plot, I'll just embed the teaser here, okay?

That's really all you need to know about the plot--it refreshingly deviates a bit from standard serial killer plotlines, but that's not Wells' strength. It's in making us care about the individuals surrounding the plot--primarily the "hero."

I was just thinking the other day about how nice it would be to have a novel about a teenager that wasn't directed at a Young Adult audience (although there's nothing about this book that would keep it from being labeled YA) and lo and behold, here one is. John Wayne Cleaver is an atypical teen written convincingly enough to appeal to older readers. The way he deals with his inner "monster", the serial killer nature he's known for years is lurking beneath the surface, is reminiscent of Dexter Morgan, but he's not a knock-off. Unlike Dex, John's not looking for an outlet for his desire to kill, he's looking for a way to deny it.

The rest of the cast (both teens and adults) are not as fleshed out, and we could spend more time with all of them, but they feel just as "real". It will be interesting over the next 2 planned installments to watch them develop and react to John and his struggles (especially as his struggles become more and more overt as I suspect they will).

The exterior conflict in the novel is well done, and has a satisfying conclusion (that had me sitting on the edge of my seat), but the payoff to John's interior conflict is even better--and somewhat surprising to the reader as well as John.

I'll pay Wells one of the highest compliments I can think of--I was about 50 pages away from the end when I started to get anxious about getting my hands on the second entry in the series--which doesn't look like it'll be available here for another year.