Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Dan Wells - I Am Not A Serial Killer

People like me. You'll never see us coming.
Caution! Gory content – strong stomach essential.

'I Am Not A Serial Killer' is a YA book about a 15 year old boy called John Wayne Cleaver – a kid that possesses a name that will put you on edge. He works in the family mortuary with his mum and aunt – his dad is absent and John….he has issues – some big ones. Not a subscription to White Dwarf, more what his therapist classes as ‘Antisocial Personality Disorder’ and a ‘monster’ that lives inside of him. He has a set of rules to keep ‘the monster’ in check in order to be a normal kid, despite his obvious defects of being a sociopath. It gets more sinister. Someone or something is stalking and killing people in John’s hometown of Clayton. On the first page someone has already had their intestines on display and the gruesome acts get progressively worse as the book progresses.


As book titles go, it’s a sure fire winner. Not only does it standout as a memorable, morbid statement, the cover of ‘I Am Not A Serial Killer’ is a real eye catcher. Using black, white and lots of red, it bleeds a sinister corruption. The clawed scratch marks above the title, the spidery, angry lettering that adorns both the front and back make it a book that you will know doubt pick up and muse over if you spied it in a book shop.

I really enjoyed this book; Dan Wells has the ability to tell an engaging tale with the kind of descriptive hooks that I can’t get enough of. Like James Herbert, the horror is suitably gruesome and for a YA book, fairly explicit. People are eviscerated; their insides become their outsides, limbs hacked off here and there – it’s a rush, an adrenalin fuelled surge of old-school horror seen through the eyes of a 15 year old sociopath. It strongly reminded me of an old horror film from the early 80s. It edged on the side of Silver Bullet (sans kid in wheelchair and Gary Busey) and substituted it for a boy obsessed with serial killers and a therapist ‘just trying to do the right thing.’ There is a sense of a final showdown conclusion looming at the end of almost every chapter; with Cleaver almost constantly vowing to find the scourge of Clayton and put it down once and for all. Big Damn Heroes trope? You bet – although Cleaver, leans on the side of anti-hero – he’s not without his demons, or ‘monster’ if you will. Several points in the book he comes across as a thoroughly disturbing child – he’s consumed at least twice by the ‘monster’ which nearly ends in tragedy for two people, both of who are close to him in different ways. He also stalks a girl in his class that he is interested in:

She’s (Brooke, the girl in question) great, I thought. She has a birthday coming up, and I found the complete guest list for her slumber party crumpled up in the family’s garbage can. She likes horses, manga and 80’s music, and she’s always just late enough for the school bus that she has to run to catch up. I know her class schedule, her GPA, her social security number and the password to her gmail account.”

I quite liked the creepiness and black humour of this inner monologue answer to his mum’s innocent question of how Brooke was. Cleaver again, edges on that side of being the mysterious weirdo who one minute buys you flowers and takes you out to dinner but then starts the conversation with “so, how would you like to see my collection of shrunken heads?” There’s one superb scene where he owns one of his classroom tormentors with a creepy, Patrick Bateman-esque put down that unfortunately backfires in killing the moment with Brooke, who happens to overhear the conversation.

Not wanting to give too much away, there is a specific moment in the book where a big genre shift takes place - it's not entirely unexpected, but it alters the tone of the book from a sinister mystery, to a 'hunt the demon' with the gore intensifying and Cleaver conjuring up his own theories about the killer, which are proved to be disturbingly accurate. 

Despite Cleaver's flawed and somewhat bizarre personality, it's difficult not to root for him - just like Bundy, he has that charm coupled with this deadpan delivery that, even if the 'monster' did break loose, you'd still cheer for him, because let's face it, the bad guys are always more fun, right?