Reviews Revisited – I Am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells

★★★★ 4 Stars

Genre: Horror / Mystery
Series: John Cleaver
Publication Date: March 30th, 2009
Publisher: Tor Books

“Fear is about things you can’t control. The future or the dark, or someone trying to kill you. You don’t get scared of yourself because you always know what you’re going to do.”

Dan Wells’s debut is an unusual witches’ brew of dark humor, cerebral horror and bleak small-town life. The writing has jagged edges in its beginnings, but I have yet to find another series that I love with so little wavering. This is one of those rarities where I feel it was written specifically for me, with everything I knew and didn’t know I sought in a novel.

Me and this series are like connate flowers. However, John Cleaver really schemed and staked his way into my heart, and was cemented as an instant perma-favourite series to me with the second book, Mr. Monster. I Am Not a Serial Killer suffers from initial uneasiness as Wells gets on his feet with the series, and sudden doses of genre whiplash. The first novel pools its arachnoid feet into many genres, but gives off a flighty self-consciousness about taking the leap from a mystery with paranormal aspects into straight-out horror, which it definitely becomes by the second book. This was the only trait it had I didn’t care for, and I still don’t upon revisits, but the unsure tone actually fits when the main character’s chaos of self. John is never sure what he wants to be.

John “It Doesn’t Matter What Other People Think When You’re Right” Cleaver is a bitter, anxious, antisocial teen with hair-trigger violent tendencies that he struggles to keep from unraveling on those who don’t deserve his wrath, whether it be his mother or his friends. He is pulled between crushing loneliness and craving nothing more than being alone, something that reflected painfully when I first read it. His discussions with his therapist, Dr. Neblin, devolve from him not taking them seriously and trying to freak the doctor out, into panic and emotional decay from trying to hold up the façade of being “normal” and never showing anger, out of fear of what he’ll end up doing.

“I’m on the edge, Neblin, I’m off the edge – I’m over the edge and falling to Hell on the other side. […] I’m down in the cracks of the sidewalk,” I said, “in the dirt and in the blood, and the ants are looking up and we’re damning you all, Neblin. I’m down in the cracks and I can’t get out.” Continue reading “Reviews Revisited – I Am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells”

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A Note on “Reviews Revisited”

I have to restrain myself from re-reading older reviews sometimes, especially ones from before 2018. I’ve completely rewritten many of them, but the remnants are some sweet cringe. At least to me. Recently, I’ve been revisiting some of these books and I think I will start a new branch of book reviews on ones I’ve already covered, but may think differently about, or think they deserve a better (or worse) review upon another examination. I’ll list them as “Reviews Revisited”, so if you’ve seen the book on here before, you’ll know why. A lot of movie critics will do this, but books I feel take more of an effort to decide if you like it or not, or what it objectively deserves. They consume a lot more time to finish and have a more unusual set of nuances than film.

Not that it matters when you’re just writing reviews for fun, but it’s good to have some spores of integrity. People have worked hard on these, and though many of the authors whose work I’ve written about will never see it, several actually have, so I think on that off-chance, they deserve honesty. And anyway, it takes some effort to get a cruel review from me. It’s got to be some maggot-ridden dumpster fodder to get stamped with a one or zero-star rating.

I grade books a little bit differently from most reviewers, I believe. The Goodreads star system, for example, rates one-star as a standard “I didn’t like it”, but I personally consider two-star to be in that range for me. Two-stars or a low three is just an ordinary bad read for me. I didn’t like it but someone else could. It’s competent as a book, at least, if not enjoyable. One-star I reserve for books that are in some vein harmful, pure idiocy, bad pseudo-science, abusive, slandering, unreadable, poorly written, non-plotted pieces of smoldering, grade-F guano that should be left to rot, if they aren’t already being used as torture devices to get people to confess. It has to really suck, in other words. As far as I recall, only ten or twelve books have ever earned this place. I’ll get to those eventually, too.