"Being partially to blame for your own therapist's death is a tough thing to deal with, especially because you don't have a therapist anymore to help you through it. Sometimes irony just kicks you in the teeth like that." - John Wayne Cleaver
Yes, John Wayne Cleaver is back, dark humor intact even if his grasp on Mr. Monster is not. In his first outing, I Am Not A Serial Killer, we learned that fifteen-year-old John had been diagnosed by his therapist as a sociopath, and self-diagnosed as a (potential) serial killer. The dark side of John's psyche, which he calls Mr. Monster, is always just below the surface, struggling to escape while John tries desperately to keep it under wraps. That struggle became decidedly more difficult after John confronted and killed a serial killer who was stalking his town in I Am Not A Serial Killer... Mr. Monster's now had a taste of what he wants.
As if trying to keep your homicidal impulses under control isn't enough for a teenager to deal with, Mr. Monster finds John juggling a host of additional challenges: a mother who knows "what" John is but refuses to discuss it; an absent father; an older sister in an abusive relationship (boy does Mr. Monster want a piece of that guy); and an attempted first romance (made extremely awkward by the violent thoughts Mr. Monster has about the object of John's attention). Oh, there are also the horribly tortured dead bodies that start turning up around town, and the FBI agent who seems a little too interested in John's thoughts on the murders.
Mr. Monster is told from John's point of view, as was I Am Not A Serial Killer, that first-person narrative being absolutely crucial for the reader to be privy to the war raging in John between his desire to be normal and Mr. Monster's desire to be set free. And what a war it is. While I Am Not A Serial Killer certainly had its moments, the violence is exponentially increased in Mr. Monster. The descriptions of the damage inflicted upon the victims of the town's new serial killer spare no detail, and the showdown depicted in the last quarter of the book between John and the killer - and between John and Mr. Monster - borders on the uncomfortable.
Rather than being gratuitous, however, author Dan Wells has developed John Wayne Cleaver with such nuance that the reader understands pulling any punches when describing the brutality John both faces and wants to commit would not be honest to the character. Wells is certainly not afraid to go places the reader may not necessarily want to, and has obviously done a tremendous amount of research into the psychology of serial killers. That John has done the same makes his level of self-awareness and struggle with Mr. Monster incredibly sympathetic... despite the fact his seriously twisted fantasies will creep you the hell out. It's a nifty balancing act for Wells to have pulled off.
You don't have to have read I Am Not A Serial Killer to enjoy Mr. Monster, but you're going to want to read it so go ahead and pick them both up if you haven't already. Just don't start either book unless you're prepared to finish it in one sitting... and don't read them late at night.