John Wayne Cleaver’s journey started in I Am Not a Serial Killer, but his problems get more severe in the second book in Dan Wells’s trilogy, Mr. Monster. The teenage sociopath is very determined not to become the serial killer he longs to be in his heart of hearts, but it’s a challenge. His dark side — Mr. Monster, he calls it — wants out, and it especially wants to kill Brooke, the beautiful girl he drives to school every day. John dreams about Brooke begging him not to hurt her — which is why he hates to sleep. And it’s only gotten worse since John killed a demon. And worse yet because Brooke seems to have a crush on him.
If only she knew. John doesn’t consider himself a hero. But he’s a hero to his town — not because he killed the demon, as no one but his mother knows about that, but because the circumstances of that killing tended to suggest that he was trying to save the human who was inhabited by the demon. The demon was the Clayton Killer, which had been killing people in town for months. The demon’s corpse is categorized as the final victim of the Clayton Killer before the killer simply disappeared.
Only one person has ongoing doubts about John: Agent Forman, the FBI agent assigned to the Clayton Killer case. Forman frequently calls John into his office for a chat; as the book opens, he’s interviewed John at least half a dozen times. John has told him everything there is to know, except that a demon attacked him and his mother and he killed it. And, of course, John hasn’t told him about Mr. Monster, the dark side of his psyche.
John is increasingly tempted to start killing people who deserve killing, like his sister’s boyfriend. He lets off steam by setting fires, but manages to avoid killing even the cat that inhabits the abandoned warehouse he wants to burn down. Tending to the corpses in the mortuary managed by his mother and aunt also helps, though his mother has to remind him to refer to the corpses as “him” or “her” instead of “it.”
When new dead female bodies start showing up in town, showing evidence of extensive torture, John is more intrigued than horrified. He is the one who wades into the water to rescue one corpse in case the girl is still alive. He is the one who comes up with ideas about what the killer is up to, which he discusses with Agent Forman. It looks like he might even be the one who Agent Forman suspects committed the murders.
But the problem is deeper than that. This isn’t just another serial killer on the prowl, but a demon come to town to figure out what happened to his fellow demon. And this demon can see into John’s soul, providing him with irresistible temptation. Will John be able to keep his rules intact, and prevent killing anyone despite his longing?
Mr. Monster is highly original, and John Wayne Cleaver is a hero unlike any other I’ve read about. He’s not Dexter or Blackburn, the serial killers brought to life by Jeff Lindsay and Bradley Denton, as those character kill those who (in their estimation) deserve it. John is a sociopath who knows that he’s a sociopath, and doesn’t want to be. He’s a kid who’s as mixed up as any fifteen-year-old teenager, with the extra burden of a mental health diagnosis that terrifies him. And he’s smart — smart enough to figure out how to defeat some of the worst evil he’s ever imagined.
It’s not surprising that Dan Wells mentions in his Acknowledgments that his mother-in-law secretly called his wife to ask if she felt comfortable being alone with him. It’s that kind of book. The JOHN CLEAVER trilogy continues in I Don’t Want to Kill You, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.