Mr. Monster Paperback – Jan 1 2010
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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.
I enjoyed the first one but I liked this one more. Dan Well's story was excellent, and makes you really care about the protagonist. Mr. Monster is darker than its predecessor, and there are a few scenes where you are find yourself cringing and saying "Oh, John, don't do THAT!" But then he goes and does it, and you're surprised to find that you care about the character's struggle even more.
I can't comment on the ending without giving any spoilers, but it ended on a note that set up the last book in the series perfectly, and it was simply awesome.
-Larry Correia, author of Monster Hunter International
As someone who's always been a little fascinated with serial killers (I've stopped reading the true crime genre but still enjoy thrillers), John is an interesting anti-hero: he wants to be good, but he has to fight himself for the privilege, and he doesn't have any of the usual rewards for being good that the rest of the populace have since he doesn't have positive emotions. We see his anger and fear reactions later in the book, but he really doesn't experience love or other positive emotions like most people do.
John's war with Mr. Monster, as well as his interactions with other characters (his mother, aunt, sister, first crush, other kids at school, and an FBI agent he talks to about the murders occurring in town) reveal a lot about his mental state. Wells has done a brilliant job capturing not only a young mind, but a young sociopathic mind in turmoil. Well done!
Not surprisingly, whenever I describe these books to people, most people say something like, "Sounds kind of like Dexter." There are definitely similarities between the two. Both of them are disturbingly likeable characters. But while Dexter gives in regularly to his "dark passenger" by killing pedophiles and others who he rationalizes are deserving of his skills, John is trying to maintain his tenuous control over his "Mr. Monster," hoping to never begin killing. He sees a therapist regularly and has devised a list of rules that he forces himself follow which he feels will prevent him from ever starting down that road.
Mr. Monster picks up a couple of months after its predecessor left off and I wouldn't recommend reading it without first having read the other. I think Dan Wells is an author whose popularity is going to grow if he continues to write books as interesting and entertaining as these two have been.
MINOR SPOILER ALERT:
In the first book in this trilogy, John fights and kills a demon disguised as a serial killer terrorizing his small town. Well, now someone is back in Clayton, torturing and murdering young women. Is it your run-of-the-mill serial killer or could it possibly be another demon?
This series is told in first person point-so of-view, the reader gets to feel the full impact of John's fight against the dark yearnings of his own personality - from Mr. Monster within him.
I actually would have preferred that there not be a supernatural side to this trilogy. John's fight with himself is quite scary enough. But the story is well told and I am enjoying it.
NOTE: Just because there is a teenage protagonist, this is NOT a Young Adult book. There are many scenes of graphic violence throughout the story.
I am now off to read book three in the trilogy I Don't Want to Kill You.