Jack Heath's Reviews > I Am Not A Serial Killer

I Am Not A Serial Killer by Dan Wells
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's review
Oct 16, 09

Read in October, 2009

When writing reviews, I'm sometimes tempted to say, 'I loved this book from the first page.' But this is the first time I can honestly say I loved a book before then. I fell in love at first sight with this book. I was hypnotised by the cover, blood red with four deep gouges in it, and I adored the title, I Am Not A Serial Killer.

Because it made such a terrific first impression, I expected to be disappointed by the contents. I wasn't.

The book is about a fifteen year-old who works in a mortuary, is obsessed with serial killers, and is frightened of becoming one. He has reason to be worried, since he suffers from ten of the fourteen childhood indicators of serial killer behaviour as determined by the FBI, including lack of empathy, pyromania, and cruelty to animals. But when shredded bodies start showing up at work, he realises he has much bigger problems. A real serial killer has come to town.

There's something for everyone here – it's like The Loved One and The X-Files had a baby. And the baby is Dexter Morgan.

It would have been easy to let the premise turn this novel into something flat and cartoonish, but Dan Wells injects so many intriguing details into his story that the reader stays thoroughly absorbed, even when the plot starts getting paranormal. His research is rock-solid, not just on serial killer history and psychology, but also on topics as diverse as genetics, embalming, and the legal obligations of therapists. And the plot has more twists than a bag of Twisties, but each one is a surprise, so it's more like a bag of Twisties disguised as a bag of breadsticks. Man, I'm hungry.

All the characters are richly identifiable, including – and I can't stress enough how impressed I was by this – the serial killer. (Is that messed up, or what?) Wells is a first-time novelist, and yet he's already created a sympathetic villain, the holy grail of thriller writing. While I Am Not A Serial Killer is being sold as a gimmick book, there's plenty of thematic merit here, and a lot of skill has gone into the writing. It would make sense to retire after writing a novel this good, but most writers are addicts, so I expect that there are more good books in the pipeline.

But a word of warning. (102 words, in fact.) It's always intrigued me that YA writers are allowed to use violence or adult themes in their books, but not both. As a violent writer, I'm permitted – by my publisher, by librarians, by parents, by readers – to have as much blood as I want, provided there's no sex, drugs, or swearing. Wells has taken this to extremes, and written an incredibly gruesome book that's completely appropriate for kids, according to the preposterous standards we live by. The cover I fell in love with read Caution! Gory content – strong stomach essential. I figured that was just a marketing trick. I was wrong.
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