Monday 9 June 2014

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Review: I am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells

I am Not a Serial Killer by Dan WellsI am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells (review copy) - John works in his family’s mortuary and has an obsession with serial killers. He wants to be a good person, but fears he is a sociopath, and for years he has suppressed his dark side through a strict system of rules designed to mimic 'normal' behavior.

Then a demon begins stalking his small town and killing people one by one, and John is forced to give in to his darker nature in order to save them. As he struggles to understand the demon and find a way to kill it, his own mind begins to unravel until he fears he may never regain control. Faced with the reality that he is, perhaps, more monstrous than the monster he is fighting, John must make a final stand against the horrors of both the demon and himself.
From Goodreads

I've had I am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells for a really long time. The whole trilogy in fact. I have been so intrigued by it for such so long, but never got round to picking it up. When trying to wrack my brain recently for another book (read: one that is most definitely not Breaking Butterflies by M. Anjelais) about a sociopath, I remembered it. And oooh, I wish I had picked it up much sooner! I am Not a Serial Killer is a deliciously dark, creepy, and funny novel - with fantastic insights into sociopathy.

John Cleaver is obsessed with serial killers, works in his mother's mortuary, and is fascinated by dead bodies. He's also a sociopath, and is constantly trying to be "normal", but not really understanding why his hobby is considered weird to others. When people start being brutally murdered in Clayton County, with his in-depth knowledge of serial killers, he's certain that one is targetting people in his county. But what he thinks is  a serial killer turns out to be much more. Partly wanting to prevent the gruesome murders, and partly through fascination, John is determined to find out who - or what - is stalking his home, and how to stop the serial killer.

Oh, what a delight this book is! What a brilliant story, and so different! Supernatural killers we've heard of, but this story would really not have been anywhere near the same if John wasn't a sociopath. It made the story so interesting! Put learning about sociopathy alongside a murder story, and boom! what makes this book brilliant is that John is the narrator, and so we get to see through his eyes. We get to understand what it means to be a sociopath from the point of view of a sociopath.
'The idea that I might be a sociopath was nothing new to me - I'd known for a long time that I didn't connect with other people. I didn't understand them, and they didn't understand me, and whatever emotional language they spoke seemed beyond my capacity to learn. Antisocial Personality Disorder could not be officially diagnosed until you were eighteen years old. Prior to that, it was just 'Conduct Disorder', but let's be honest: Conduct Disorder is just a nice way of telling parents their kids have antisocial Personality Disorder. I saw no reason to dance around the issue. i was a sociopath, and it was better to deal with it now.' (p50)
'The lack of emotional connection with other people has the odd effect of making you feel separate and alien - as if you are observing the human race from somewhere else, unattached and unwelcome. I've felt like that for years... People scurry around, doinf their little jobs, raising their little families and shouting their meaningless emotions to the world, and all the while you just watch from the sidelines, bewildered. This drives some sociopaths to feel superior, as if the whole of humanity were simly animals to be hunted or put down; others feel a hot, jealous rage, desperate to have what they cannot. I simply felt alone, one leaf sitting miles away from a giant, communal pile.' (p51)

I understood and empathised with John so much - finally, I get it! A sympathetic sociopath!  Even when he's fighting his own demons, his dark side that he calls the "monster", the side of him that wants to hurt others, he's still sympathetic, because you're reading it from an understanding view point because of previous explanations. And he tries so hard to be good! As well as these in depth explanations on what it means to be a sociopath, the book is riddled with tid-bits on sociopaths to either explain John's behaviour, or to teach him himself, like the followng quote from his therapist, Dr. Neblin.
'"Don't make the mistake of thinking sociopaths can't feel. They do feel - very keenly - they just don't know what to do with their emotions."' (p86)
Sadly, it's not all understanding. John's behaviour can be... well, odd. And only after the fact, or in the middle of a passionate speech he can't stop himself from completing, does he realise that what he's saying and/or doing isn't what's considered "normal" (a word John uses several times throughout the novel), and then sees how people are reacting to him, the odd and fearful looks. When his mother tries to discuss his recent diagnosis of sociopathy, he gets frustrated and an argument ensues - we realise she doesn't quite grasp it.
'"I'm telling you not to be a sociopath," she snapped. "Just because you mope around all the time doesn't mean you've got a mental disorder - it means you're a teenager. The thing is, John, you can't just have a doctor's note to get you out of life. You live in the same world as the rest of us, and you've got to deal with it the same way the rest of us do."' (p32)
There's also the plot, that's just awesome; John playing super sleuth to find out what's going on, and obsession that goes from serial killers to this one particular killer. The book is full of information on serial killers, as if John swallowed an encyclopedia on them, and it's absolutely fascinating, in a creepy way. It's this knowledge that has him working things out. The thing people all thought he was weird for is the thing that might save everyone's lives. But it's not all creepy and morbid, dark humour - really amusing dark humour - runs thoughout. John has a great sense of humour, strangely enough. Some of it is shown when talking about his interest in serial killers as his hobby to his friend Max, really getting into it and trying to explain why as best he can.
'"You're crazy, man," said Max. "You're really, head-on collision, insane-asylum crazy."
"My therapist actually thinks I'm doing pretty well," I said.' (p56) 
I am Not a Serial Killer is such a great book! I'm so glad I have the rest of the trilogy sitting on my shelf, and can dive in to the others soon. A fantastic story, and a fantastic portrayal of sociopathy. So glad to finally understand, and not hate this sociopath.

Thank you to Headline for the review copy.

Mental Health Awareness Month

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Published: 3rd March 2009
Publisher: Headline
Dan Wells' Website


  1. One of my favourite books and trilogy's. Great exciting review, I loved talking and recommending this one when I read it. I had a mini crush on John, yup I admitted to having a crush with a sociopath, lol

    1. Thank you! :) I can understand the crush, he is pretty amusing! :) I'm really looking to reading the other books in the trilogy and getting to know John even better :)

  2. Okay, so this was one of my favorite series before I ever really got into the YA genre, and even now I still adore it. I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed by the twist that happened in the middle of the book (I'm sure you know what I'm talking about), but it was still extremely entertaining and John is such of a fascinating character! Great review, Jo!

    And by the way, if you liked this one, I think you would love I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga... Which I think would also fit in with MHAM, since I would definitely say Jazz suffers a little from PTSD and/or the emotional trama that his father inflicted upon him (not that the book is really a heavy read or anything, it's really quite entertaning).

    1. Thank you! I think I know what you're referring to. I guessed a little before it was revealed, but I still think it was generally kind of surprising. I don't know, not what you would generally expect? It worked for me! Though I didn't expect the sympathy I felt for said twist at the end. But I did. I DO love John, he's so awesome!

      Oooh. I'll have to look up I Hunt Killers! Thank you for the rec! :) And thanks for stopping by!

  3. Ack! I have to read this now. It looks so interesting.