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on November 8, 2009
I am Not a Serial Killer is a great read, the type of genre the book is changes half way through, I don't want to give away which genre it switches to as that would be giving away a substantial part of the plot. Admittedly, at first I thought oh no, the author has obviously just run out of ideas on how to keep the story going but as I read on those thoughts were proved wrong, the change of genre works really, really well.

Basic plot of I Am Not a Serial Killer has John Cleaver having recently finished primary school entering high school for the first time in the small town of Clayton. John whose father bailed years ago and whose mother's parental skills are so bad they drove his sister out of the family home, is not popular at all in school. A target for bullies he hangs around with Max, an equally unpopular kid, not because he enjoys his friendship, but because appearing to have conversations with someone else (Max is a talker) will make the other kids and teachers not notice just how different he is. You see John is always trying to keep the monster behind the wall. The monster is the fact that John is a sociopath who has a list of rules he makes himself follow so as not to start on his natural calling as a serial killer. His mother and aunt run the local mortuary and he is fascinated by dead bodies, since it is the only place he seems to be able to communicate with this mother at all, he is always assisting with the preparation of the town's bodies. He has read every detail of famous serial killers' sprees, so when a murder victim is slashed open in the town laundromat and their organs piled up beside them, John knows straight away this is no one off. John can't help but to become obsessed with profiling this killer and trying to catch him in the act of the kill to study his methods up close.

A very good and unique storyline and a very definitely unique character with John Cleaver. If you liked the learning about behind the scenes mortuary parts of the novel also check out Weepin' Willie by Richard Grayson.
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on April 2, 2010
Short version: I almost didn't read this book, but I'm so happy I did.

Long version. You can scare the crap out of me (Aracnaphobia), and I will love you forever. You can make me bite my nails in terrible suspense (Wait Until Dark, The Village) or throw supernatural at me (Poltergeist) and I will sing with praise. But the moment you do gruesome, the moment you start showing me entrails and organs, my discomfort level shoots through the roof.

And this is why I would not have finished I Am Not A Serial Killer by Dan Well's if I had just picked it up off a shelf-because the main character is the son of a woman who owns a mortuary. We get to see him help process a mutilated body very early in the book, pumping fluids in etc., and Wells knows his craft so I was THERE. I'm sure it's not too gruesome for some, but I just have issues with organs. I don't know why. I also have an issue with clowns.

Clowns are, by far, the scariest things around. And this is not because I read the book IT by Stephen King as a wee lad because I didn't. It's because they're painted vessels of evil. End of story. They're perfect examples of the freakazoids that lurk in the uncanny valley.

Anyway, I'd heard Wells read a portion of this book that had all of us in the room crying because we were laughing so hard. So I read on, telling myself I had to at least get to that part. And I am so very happy I did.

I Am Not A Serial Killer is young adult story about a good-hearted teen named John Cleaver who is a sociopath with all the traits shared by serial killers. John's in counseling, but more importantly, he is convinced he can prevent himself from becoming a serial killer by keeping rules he's made for himself like not watching people for too long and complimenting someone when they make him angry. Such rules, he hopes, will keep him from feeding compulsions he won't be able to resist. The problem is a real serial killer has come to town (but unlike any you've seen before). And John may be the only one who can stop him. Will he let go of his rules to save the town? Or will he keep his monster asleep while others die around him?

It's a fascinating situation (without a clown in sight, may the writing gods be praised). And Wells takes the reader on a journey through it that includes mystery, dread, and humor. In the hands of some other author, that would be enough. But Wells does more than entertain us. He gives us things to think about. He gives us great characters to boot-come on, when was the last time you read a book where the hero was a likeable sociopath? And there's poetry in it. You'll love how he used William Blake's Tiger Tiger and Little Lamb. Besides, most of the gruesome is up front anyway.

Read this book. Skim the body processing if you must. But you simply don't want to miss the rest. It was a fabulous read and I recommend it highly.
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on February 1, 2010
Dan Wells has crafted something extraordinary with his first novel, I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER.

John Wayne Cleaver is our protagonist, and as you find out very early on, he isn't your average teenager. His troubles go much deeper than most, and are much more serious. See, he worries that he might become a serial killer. He has all the tendencies of a sociopath, and he is very aware of how dangerous they are.

John is obsessed with serial killers--how could he not be considering his tendencies, and the fact that he is named John Wayne (though his mother swears she didn't name him after the serial killer John Wayne Gacy). John, a boy in High School who also works at his family mortuary, begins to notice a strange pattern in the murders that are taking place in his small town. His personal investigation of the murders put him in a unique position to expose the killer, and also put him in danger of losing himself to his inner sociopath.

One of the things I especially liked about I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER, was that it doesn't seem to follow the typical public's view of "horror." It seems like people are hell-bent on assuming that horror is synonymous with hack-and-slash and blood-and-gore. Guess what? That's garbage, and Dan proves in this amazing novel--the first in a trilogy--that the old-school flavor of horror built on suspense and character is the way it should be written and enjoyed.

Dan's writing is clever, and extremely well done. There are moments where the novel seems YA, and others where is is straight-up Horror/Supernatural Horror. I think it was this accessible blend that really made this book excellent, in my opinion.

When I was reading this novel, I somehow managed to feel pleasantly disturbed, amused, horrified, terrified, and awed. How often can one book evoke that range of emotions, and make you pleased about all of them? I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER does just that.

Now, some people may mistakenly draw parallels to the Jeff Lindsay's character, Dexter. First of all, I know Dan, and he had this idea long before Dexter was even popular. Second, Dan handles the young sociopath infinitely better than Lindsay handles his young Dexter segments. Lastly, Dan's book shifts dramatically from normal Horror to a near-Supernatural Horror part way through the novel (and it succeeds where Lindsay's 3rd Dexter novel turned into complete crap). This book isn't like Dexter. It surpasses Dexter.

On that note, I'll mention that I've read the entire trilogy of Dan's John Cleaver novels. You all won't see them released in the US for a bit, but let me just say that where I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER is an amazing book, the two follow-ups manage to blow it our of the water.

Don't be afraid to pick up this novel. It is incredible, and the sequels that will come out over the next year are even better.

This was easily one of my favorite UK releases from last year, and will be one of my favorite US releases this year.

Recommended Age: 13 and up (the sequels, just so you know, should prolly be for 15 and up)
Language: None
Violence: Well, duh. It get's awesomely crazy at times. You did read the title of the book right?
Sex: None
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on April 27, 2016
Honestly, this book is so gorgeously, flawlessly written, that I actually want to read the next one-- which is something since I cannot endure horror or anything even a teeny bit scary. Maybe because I worked with psychologically disturbed teens for the better part of a decade, & all that darkness is too real for me, & not something I find entertaining because I'm invariably reminded of former clients, etc...?
I read this because I've viewed Dan Wells' YouTube class on story structure which was utterly brill, so I took the bit in my teeth & read it.
The book is CRAZY compelling & wholly absorbing.
Why then the missing star then, you ask?
I'm not even going to pretend to be fair; I deducted a star because this book was so creepy I was mentally throwing up in my mouth for about half of it!
It's not especially graphic or anything like that, I mean other than the nature of this "serial killer's" methods, but just getting inside of this kid's head & hanging there for a few hours was soul-chilling & scary.
If you like a high creep-factor & occasional violence that is not displayed in an overtly gruesome way, here you go.
I have no idea why I want to read the next novel except that the writing is SP very good that "John" does feel like s client & I have a compelling need to complete his ct history so I can start helping him, lol😳
Which is totally nuts.
But some seriously crazy awesome writing.
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John Wayne Cleaver (named for The Duke of movie fame and not the serial killer) is 15 years old and fits all the tests for a sociopath. He has to work hard to keep his Mr. Monster buried deep inside.

Then a serial killer comes to his small town and John goes on the hunt, trying to track him down.

Fast paced with shades of Darkly Dreaming Dexter, "I Am Not a Serial Killer" is a rollercoaster ride of gore, gruesomeness and a touch of glee. John not only is hunting a serial killer but he is dealing with parent problems, high school problems, girl issues, and the day to day occurrences of working in his family's mortuary business.

And just because the protagonist is a teenager, I do not consider this to be a Young Adult book. It is a bit too graphic to be anything other than adult horror fiction.

I loved John in this tale. I would have preferred the story without the supernatural bent but still it was a rollicking romp of murder and mayhem. I am now off to read the second and third books in this trilogy - I Don't Want to Kill You and Mr. Monster - and hope I enjoy them as much.
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on February 9, 2013
Though it was the first book that I've finished in under 2 weeks in a very long time, it could have been so much better. In fact I really wish I didn't have the complaints that I do.

First off, I'm going to spoil something for you because, I believe, it might actually make you like the book more if you decide to read it. I felt duped when it happened, because it turned out to not be the type of book I thought I was reading. So....

***************SPOILER ALERRRRRRRRRT*******************

....this book has a huge supernatural element to it. That's all I'll say; I won't ruin more than that. And don't get me wrong, I love supernatural stories. But I wasn't out to read a supernatural story; I wanted to read about a sociopathic teenager. Which I still did, and it was mostly well written, incredibly interesting, and very engaging. But the supernatural bent really got my knickers in a twist when it came out of the blue like that. I was surprised, but not in a good way; it seemed like the author thought we wouldn't read it if we knew it was supernatural, so he just left that out of the blurb. Or, he thought we'd appreciate the shock. But again, I just felt tricked.

Once I got past that though, I thought all of the characters were incredibly realistic. The John, his family, his therapist, the villain, everyone. I love it when an author knows his characters, and this author definitely does.

And the story is usually, though supernatural, believable. However, there are moments that seem to defy logic. Without spoiling anything else, I'll say that more people should have been suspicious of the sociopath teenager than were, especially after some of the actions he took. (How's that for vague?) It was enough that at moments, I was taken out of the story and giving the pages a look of disbelief. Which was especially disappointing because the book was otherwise so absorbing.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon April 8, 2012
- John Wayne Cleaver: "I was really good at pretending to be normal. If you met me on the street, you'd never guess how much I wanted to kill you."

Ouch. Fifteen-year-old John Cleaver has been obsessed with serial killers since he was a little boy. It's a bit sick and a lot sad, but John's sociopathic inclinations mark him as the weird, alienated kid in tiny Clayton County, and John, highly intelligent and aware of how different a cat he is, attempts to make connections where he can. Some of his darker compulsions are sated by his puttering around with his mom and aunt, the town morticians, and, by the way, writer Dan Wells delivers more graphic descriptions of embalming than you can shake a cadaver at.

John Cleaver doesn't want to become a serial killer. As such, he adheres to a strict and self-imposed code of behavior. He mustn't hurt animals. Should he ever think violent thoughts about someone, he compliments that person. Should he find himself staring too long at someone, he avoids that person for a week. And since a characteristic of the serial killer is that he's always alone, John has saddled himself with a best friend. Dan Wells accomplishes a tricky thing. He's able to write a disturbing lead character and, from the very first pages, develop him into someone likable and relatable. Even more telling of Wells' craftsmanship, the book's big bad is nearly as sympathetic.

I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER is Dan Wells' debut, not that you could tell, it reads so polished. For a novel that features someone as emotionally detached as John Cleaver, it is amazingly empathetic. It's a creepy read, sure, but also funny and sad and riveting and very suspenseful. It is unputdownable. And, somewhere along the way, it undergoes a dramatic genre shift. When the wintry, quiet town of Clayton is rocked by a series of terrifying murders, John is compelled to investigate. He stumbles onto a unique criminal, a monster that defies everything John's ever learned about serial killers.

The book's best bits center around John's dark impulses and how they're in constant war with his intellectual awareness: John knows he shouldn't want to hurt people. Without spoilering it, John comes to witness some senses-shattering stuff. It makes him realize that he may be the only one to stop this murderer. Only, to do this, he must let his inner monster out. The narrative only gets more fascinating once John upends his carefully constructed system of rules. I don't know how concerned we should be about his "crush" on his pretty neighbor and schoolmate Brooke. Except that, other than his understanding therapist (who espouses a terrific open dialogue policy with John), Brooke seems to be the only one who sees John as a real person, instead of as a freak.

I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER has generated two sequels ((Mr. Monster (John Cleaver Books) and I Don't Want to Kill You). I'm not exactly sure if trilogy is YA material, but I recommend all three as remarkable reads. They are engrossing and thought-provoking and rich in character development. They'll certainly satisfy your inner gorehound. with his wit and compelling narrative voice, John Cleaver provides entertaining company. Just be careful when he starts complimenting you.
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on February 11, 2016
Dan Wells is a great up and coming author. I enjoyed his I am not a serial killer series, and particularly enjoyed learning about the condition of the protagonist. While the story was compelling, the real enjoyment came from the complexity of the protagonist's character, and wondering what I would do if I were him. Is it possible to compensate for your inherent lack of empathy, by simply realizing that you lack empathy to begin with? Does the extrinsically learned principle of right and wrong compensate for the lack of the intrinsically understood ethical principles that we all seem to be born with and yet take for granted? These thoughts encompassed my mind as I read the book, and the learning opportunity was by far the most gratifying aspect of the experience. While the ending is fairly predictable, new elements are introduced throughout the book to keep the pace compelling and the story interesting. I was afraid that the theme would be a bit too macabre for my taste, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that it made the topic of death and murder much more tolerable through the eyes of a young boy.
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on April 1, 2010
I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER by Dan Wells is a promising start to what seems to be a wonderful trilogy. I picked it up first because of the title. Okay, I was intrigued. Then I flipped through it and read the copy. Okay, more intrigued. I noticed the blurb from F. Paul Wilson on the cover and thought, hey, if he liked it, I might, too. I like F. Paul Wilson's books very much. So I gave it a shot. I could not put it down. The character of John Wayne Cleaver leaps off the page from the moment you start. Even if the first two chapters are heavy in the process of embalming a corpse, Wells never lets go of the voice and the character of John. We are right there with him as he becomes intrigued in the mystery of a local murder. Halfway through the book in a single sitting, I hated that I had things to do. Wells intricately drops small bits of mystery and then wallops you with a supernatural twist that takes things to a very new level in storytelling. The character of John, without ruining anything, is so real and so true and yet so unique, that you understand his world and his awkward place in it. The dialogue is spot on, the secondary characters are perfectly formed for this small midwestern American town and the action moves along. John is a hero who isn't a hero, a boy who isn't a boy, really, and a typical teen that is atypical. All of these things helped me to have the most fun I've had with a book in a long time. I would disagree with the previous reviewer that this a "good airplane" read. This is pure escapism, pure fun, pure psychological, supernatural and honest storytelling. Dan Wells, if you are reading this, I would like you to know that for a first novel, this is terrific and I will be waiting for TOR to release the second and third installments of the story of John Wayne Cleaver. Everyone else, do yourself a favor and pick up I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER. Trust me. You'll love it.
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on March 13, 2015
I loved our anti-hero John Wayne cleaver. What a kid. And what a bright and observant kid to know himself so well inside and out. He was old before he was born. What other kid figures out at eight that he's wildly different and then comes up with a set of rules to live by. And thank gosh he did! We have a very rich character to study in this book and marvel thru his eyes at how he sees the world.

I liked the straight forwardness of this book. We knew early on who had what role to play in our story. The mystery was to which internal demon would survive coming out to play. And what that would do to the other half left behind while the monster ruled.

Loved this story and looking forward to the next in the series. I hope at some point John or his next therapist will help him see his skills and inner monster makes him an ideal candidate to be the person on the side of the law who stalks these guys. His observations are outstanding as his his ability to stalk his prey. Use it for good, what a thought!

The books not perfect. I would have liked to have seen a scene with his best friend Max after Max lost his father. Seems like Max would have been drawn back to John to discuss the horror at least.
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