The author of I Am Not A Serial Killer, Dan Wells, constructs a novel that I describe as a blend of the show Dexter, Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, and basically any show on the Syfy Network. In Wells’ premiere novel I Am Not A Serial Killer—the first novel in his John Cleaver series—we are presented with a 15 year old boy named John Wayne Cleaver, who is convinced that his destiny is to follow in the footsteps of the infamous serial killers that were before him. Burgeoning with malicious intent, John goes through his life silently imagining what it would be like if he were to let his true self out. He refers to his actual self that he keeps inaccessible from the world as “Mr. Monster,” which is the name for the second novel within this series.
As John wanders through his contrived normality and everyday life, we see how extensively ostracized from society he truly is. He attempts to satiate his sociopathic tendencies by working in the mortuary run by his mother. Conflicted by his equal desires to live a morally just life and his desires to inflict pain and fear within others, John ravenously yet passively studies serial killers in hopes it will deter his own deep, sinister desires from actively taking over.
The Dexter-esque elements of I Am Not A Serial Killer arise when a mysterious murder takes place right in his quaint, secluded town in Clayton County. As John works in the mortuary, which is usually sparsely populated by the occasional death of an elderly neighbor by natural causes, he is granted up close and personal access to the murder victims suffering grueling, egregious, and fatal wounds. As the death toll rises, John becomes increasingly enthusiastic as the bodies pile in to be embalmed, but this aptly named Clayton Killer is stirring the dark sediments of brutality and rage that lay dormant within young John. He is given an unfair ultimatum when he witnesses the Clayton Killer murder a man on the outskirts of town. Should John idly let the victim count ascend to high numbers as long as he doesn’t fall off the precipice of psychopathy? Or should John utilize his own self-destructive, sociopathic mind to fight fire with fire and stop this serial killer at the risk of losing all control of his actions at the first whiff of blood?
I enjoyed I Am Not A Serial Killer for its intriguing character because, unbeknownst to us, we casually meander down sidewalks throughout our lives never truly knowing the strangers we pass. Statistically speaking, it is likely we have encountered, even briefly so, an individual with sociopathic tendencies within our daily lives, which I find equal parts enthralling and terrifying. We never stop and wonder what is truly veiled behind the fictitious facades of smiles we all wear on our daily routines; John is no different in the sense that he puts all of his energy into maintaining an artifice of normalcy that deceives his neighbors. The author grants us access into the mind of a 15-year-old boy with antisocial personality disorder and a sociopathic mindset that lacks empathy. As the novel progresses, we notice him struggle against the normal constraints imposed upon him by society and the constraints he imposes upon himself to keep from acting upon his blood-thirsty will. Also, Wells allows us a personal look behind the contrived demeanor that the protagonist dons every day in hopes that he can control the raging beast that lays dormant in his breast, and we are also presented with the maudlin yet intriguing story of a mother who only wants to love a son that only wants to inflict pain on her.
I will confess I was not a huge proponent of the Frankenstein-esque and sci-fi elements that were embedded within this story, but I admit that Wells does a pretty decent job at not making the book sound like a ridiculous story that you would only see on the Syfy Network. I can certainly say that this novel is not for everyone, especially those who are adverse to a novel delving into anything science fiction or fantasy (for obvious reasons). I find the novel to move in a somewhat slow manner at some points, and, at times, I was less than thrilled with some of the sci-fi elements that gave it a bit of a juvenile tang to it. In the end, I found I Am Not A Serial Killer to be admirable for tackling a somewhat taboo subject with a certain kind of deftness and finesse that only a talented writer can manage.