by Dan Wells
Published by Tor, 2010
I Am Not A Serial Killer is a deeply strange book. Part treatise on the history of serial killers, part black comedy but with hints of a children’s adventure story, it’s a very strange combination which almost works but not quite.
John Wayne Cleaver is a disturbed boy. Probably not helped by the fact that he spends much of his time helping out in the family mortuary. That’s right embalming, autopsies all the normal activities of a teenage boy. This strange upbringing is combined with John’s fascination for serial killers and his own feelings that “fate wants him to become a serial killer” to create a typical teenage loner, displaced and misunderstood by everyone.
Needless to say when his home town of Clayton is visited by its very own serial killer, John is in a unique position to observe the killers progress. So from autopsy clues and overheard police observations, John tracks down the killer in best Hardy boys style and then sets out to stop him. That is when his inner demons begin to rise to the surface.
Now all that sounds unreal and wacky enough to be the plot of a children’s book but it is offset by some extremely gory scenes which set it firmly in adult territory. So it’s an adult crime book then, well no, without spoiling it there is a definite fantastical element to the later parts of the story which steps outside the crime genre by some distance. It even strays into serious study of the serial killer and psychotic tendencies but this is countered by the lighter tones and the fantasy elements. So the book falls firmly between several stools. Add to that some gaping plot holes (John is receiving psychiatric help for his violent thoughts but no-one seems to object to his activities in the morgue, the serial killer really should be able to guess quite easily that John is following him but this never happens) and the foundations the book is built on seem quite shaky.
Having said all that the writing is fast paced and the characters are interesting. It’s cross genre straddling can be forgiven as originality and its iffy plot is almost secondary to the characters. Ultimately, for me, it was a reasonably enjoyable book but one that failed to satisfy at any deeper level. It promised a lot and delivered a little.
Rating 2.5 out of 5