Book Review: I Am Not a Serial Killer

I Am Not a Serial Killer (John Cleaver #1)
Published By: Tor Books
Publication Date: March 2010
Page Count: 271
Source: Library
Audience: Young Adult - Mystery/Horror

I’m not even sure how I picked up I am Not a Serial Killer in the first place, but I’m glad I did. I had never read, or frankly even heard of, a story written from the perspective of a sociopath who is trying to be “normal” for a good reason – John Wayne Cleaver does not want to become one of the serial killers he’s so fascinated by. 

 There’s no white-washing the fact that John Cleaver is a dangerous person. He is unable to feel empathy toward other people, he is full of violent thoughts, and he’s obsessed with serial killers. What makes him such an interesting narrator for the story is that he wants to be a good person and to fit in. To that end, John has created an elaborate set of rules for himself to help him avoid the likelihood of becoming a serial killer. He doesn’t allow himself to interact with any one person too much. Or even think about someone too much. He also shuns most contact with the girls in his school, just in case. 

When an unusual murder occurs in his small town, John is the only one who can see it for what it is: the beginning of a serial killer’s rampage. As he get drawn deeper and deeper into the case (his mother is the town’s mortician), John’s carefully woven safety net of habits and rules starts to fray around the edges. John finds himself making decisions in a number of morally ambiguous situations. How much can, or should, he try to help if it means breaking the code that keeps him from unleashing his own violent nature? 

I both enjoyed and was disturbed by this novel. Wells did an amazing job of making John’s thought process accessible enough to hook the reader, but foreign enough to be genuinely frightening at times. I did find myself wondering, though, why John cares about not becoming a serial killer. Wells didn’t give much background behind John’s rules or reasons why he cares enough to not give in to the darkness inside of him. I would have loved more detail there – I’m hoping that’s coming in the sequels. Additionally, the story itself has a slight paranormal dimension to it which was unexpected to me, but had a Dean Koontz/Stephen King-ish feel to it. If you’re looking for something out of the ordinary and a little scary, I am Not a Serial Killer is a good bet. I will definitely be reading the sequels.

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.

Dan Wells's debut novel is the first volume of a trilogy that will keep you awake and then haunt your dreams.


  1. I absolutely loved this book/trilogy and it was on my Top list maybe 2-3 years ago. Glad you enjoyed it, I was totally fascinated by John, eek.


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