Thursday, July 10, 2014

[Book Review] I Don't Want To Kill You by Dan Wells

For those of you who haven't read the previous two stories in the John Wayne Cleaver trilogy by Dan Wells, I'll give you a brief intro.

John Cleaver is a teenager who struggles with a lack of empathy, and is obsessed with serial killers, but he really doesn't want to become one himself. He knows that deadly potential exists within him, and has spent much of his life living by self-imposed rules to avoid fulfilling that potential. But when his hometown of Clayton is threatened by a real live serial killer, he realises he must put his potential to use in order to hunt the monster stalking his community. Only, in the process, he discovers that the killer really is a monster, of the supernatural variety...

Interested? Go read I Am Not A Serial Killer, and if you like that, then you'll probably enjoy Mr Monster and I Don't Want To Kill You.

Stop reading now to avoid spoilers. Well, any more spoilers than the short blurb I just gave you, at least.

In Mr Monster, we left John after he had just called the demon Nobody to his town and challenged it to a fight. I Do Not Want To Kill You picks up about a month later, with John on the alert for any signs of a new demon in town. When a known serial killer, the Handyman, starts a killing spree in Clayton, he's sure he's found it.

As with the previous two books in the series, the story is narrated in first person by John himself, giving a unique insight into the mind of the would-be serial killer turned demon hunter. I'm not sure it would have worked as well without that deep perspective on the character, but it does distance the readers from the action, as John himself is physically distanced from it. At least until the bodies arrive in the family-run mortuary, where he gets to help out in the embalming. Nonetheless, this physical distance between John and the killings does mean the pacing feels a little less urgent than it could otherwise be.

However, for those of you who enjoy puzzle solving, there's plenty to sink your teeth into, as John takes the clues he gets and tries to piece together a profile of the new killer in town, made all the more tricky by the fact that the killer is quite possibly a demon. Of course, the beauty of having a protagonist who lacks empathy is that he will miss out on emotional, personal details that the readers are more likely to pick up on, creating a different kind of dramatic tension as you desperately hope he'll figure it out.

John's problem is also the reason he needs a partner to give him a more empathic perspective on the cases, which he gains in the form of new romantic interest Marci Jensen. Marci has shown up in the previous books, but she gets a starring role here, and she proves a very charismatic and fun companion for John. Brooke's still there, and John still can't get over her entirely, but he manages to connect with Marci in a way he's never been able to connect with anyone else and it is great to see their relationship grow. It's watching this relationship form between them that will ultimately keep readers invested even as the central plot plods slowly onwards.

Plotwise, without spoiling too much, there was a twist towards the end which struck me as a little too coincidental. You'll probably know what I'm referring to when you read it, but it just didn't sit right with me.

Thematically though, this is a perfect ending to John's character arc throughout the trilogy. His struggle in connecting with others, in finding love, and in overcoming his own potential as a serial killer, all face the ultimate test here. At times, it feels as though John's newfound role as 'John the Dragonslayer' has reduced the threat he poses by giving him a 'safe' outlet for his darker impulses, but it soon becomes apparent - as indicated by the title - that killing may not be the best option this time, and to give in to those impulses even to kill a demon may be the worst choice he'll ever make. And he discovers that he is more capable of connecting with others emotionally than he realised.

Overall, it's a satisfying end to the trilogy, even if the pacing does seem a little slack. If you enjoyed the previous two books, you should definitely pick this one up. It doesn't end the story of John Wayne Cleaver - I just discovered that there's a new John Wayne Cleaver novella called Next Of Kin out now that serves as a prequel to the new trilogy that Dan Wells is working on, with the first book due next year - but it does leave the first trilogy on a bittersweet note that will leave readers curious and excited to see how things will develop in future installments.

Undecim Rating: +3

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