I don’t often write reviews about books. In trying to figure out why, I think I’ve come to a somewhat reliable conclusion: I’m lazy.
Also, I really like getting caught up in stories and fear over analyzing things. So I have a general rule, call it a guideline really, to not review books much.
But even more than that, I have never reviewed a book by someone I know. Much less by someone I call a friend.
All that being said, I am going to review Mr. Monster by Dan Wells.
In the interest of full honesty, Dan and I don’t go way back, nor are we even Christmas card friends. We met a few years ago and have barely talked since (not out of any animosity). However, the circumstance was just unusual enough that I remember him and he remembers me. He’s an accomplished author and I’m an aspiring one.
And that’s all there is to that.
Now on to his book.
I read I Am Not a Serial Killer, also by him and the first in his John Cleaver trilogy, about six or so months ago. He came and guest-taught a class I was taking from his pal, Brandon Sanderson. Yes, that Brandon Sanderson. Attending BYU has its perks. I won a copy of IANASK because I could name more fictional serial killers than anyone else in the class.
It’s a talent.
I read the entire book that night.
Here’s the review, of both books.
Dan Wells has accomplished something that no other author I have ever read has done. Not even Stephen King has gotten into the mind of evil vs. good so well. Dan has struck deep into the heart of sociopathy and deftly and masterfully takes his reader on a journey to sympathy and love of a sociopathic character.
John Wayne Cleaver, the young protagonist of these books, is this sociopath. He has all of the characteristics and signal behaviors of a person who will likely become a serial killer. John is obsessed with serial killers and death. He cannot empathize with other people at all. He has grim, dark, very disturbing fantasies and images flit through his head and heart.
And John is the good guy.
John doesn’t want to hurt people, due entirely to the fact that he wants to hurt people so much. He knows how he would totally subjugate his mother, the girl he likes and many others. But he has made rules because that dark side of him simply must not be allowed to come out. He knows it is wrong.
That is where the magic sparks and burns in these books. This incredible, deep, stunning, inner conflict of John’s drives every moment of the story. Because the conflict is so fierce and constantly present, the pace is blistering.
In I Am Not a Serial Killer, John realizes that he knows more than anyone in town about finding and stopping the serial killer that has just started a wave of murders in Clayton County. What he doesn’t expect is the spoiler I will not reveal, but the story cooks right along and you just cannot put this book down.
John’s unique and constant isolation, alienation, and battle, along with the excellent prose and storytelling make I Am Not a Serial Killer one of the most original books I’ve ever read. Interestingly, it stands next to Elantris, written by Dan Wells’ good friend Brandon Sanderson, as easily one of the most startlingly original books I’ve ever read.
Now, onto Mr. Monster. This book picks up soon after the end of the first one. But in order to succeed at stopping the bad guy in IANASK, John had to let loose his dark, murderous side: Mr. Monster. Mr. Monster wants to inflict pain. He wants the control that causing pain, fear, despair and death will give him. He needs that release.
But John won’t allow Mr. Monster to run rampant. He is doing all he can to allow small, harmless releases, and it seems like this is doing the job, but then more killings happen. And as John seems to not realize what he is doing, Mr. Monster begins to seize control. As a reader, I could see it. Dan did this so well; it was clear that he had worked hard to strike the right tone and balance.
As he tries to find the new killer, beginning to lose the fight to contain Mr. Monster, suddenly having a social life, and then realizing something new and terrifying about this new killer, John’s life seems to spiral more out of control.
And then the last third of the book roars out of the perfect set-up of the previous chapters. Dan crafted the. perfect. ending. In the middle of the book I worried, “John’s becoming what he is trying to resist. He’s letting go too much. There’ll be no going back soon. How’s Dan going to finish this without me terrified of and hating John and what he has become?”
I won’t give it away, but it’s awesome. Easily one of the best endings in all of my reading. I am slathering on the praise, but you will know what I’m talking about. Especially if you’re a male and were once a teenager who loved battle and fantasy books.
It is emotionally devastating and powerful all at once. Not just the ending, but the entire book.
And to finish it all up, the prose is excellent.
In conclusion, Mr. Monster will carry you into the mind and soul of a young man whose sociopathic tendencies wage constant war on the veneer of a normal world that he has painstakingly constructed. The deft storytelling and characterization make the journey that John Cleaver takes both chilling and beautiful. This is a must read.
I give 5/5 stars to both of these books. This is rare for me.