Review: Mr. Monster

by Tom Ingram

Dan Wells’ first book, I Am Not A Serial Killer, was one of the first ones I ever reviewed. It’s a book about John Wayne Cleaver, the friendly neighbourhood sociopath who seems destined to become a serial killer. When an actual serial killer sets up shop in John’s hometown of Clayton, he decides to find the killer and stop him. He discovers that the killer is his neighbour, a shapeshifting demon who needs to steal body parts to survive.

Mr. Monster picks up where that left off. John has killed once, and the darkness in him wants more. When a friend of the Clayton Killer comes to town and begins killing, John becomes dangerously obsessed with stopping this one, too.

Trust me, from one sociopath to another: if you don’t understand the reason for something, it’s always love.

The main character is a stroke of brilliance. In order to keep himself from hurting anyone, and to remind himself of the rules of society that he doesn’t know instinctively, he’s set up a system of rules. If he thinks too much about someone, he has to ignore them for a week. If he thinks about killing someone, he has to give them a compliment. He cannot call dead bodies “it” (his family runs a mortuary).

But his rules run up against difficult real world situations. His mother makes him drive his neighbour Brooke to school every day, and it becomes unavoidable for him to think of her. That, and a hundred other things, is causing his rules to slowly break down.

John remains sympathetic even when he’s doing horrible things or fantasizing about doing them. His essential feeling of utter confusion in social situations strikes a chord with lonely people everywhere. He has to deal with ordinary teenage hotheadedness that could easily blow up into something much worse. And, to make things worse, his family isn’t exactly the most stable support group. Although it’s not filed as such at the book store, Mr. Monster is an excellent piece of Young Adult fiction.

Serial Killer had a great surprise moment halfway through, when John discovers the identity of the killer. Without saying anything too specific, suffice it to say that the ending of this book is not what I thought was coming. This is just as short a read as the previous book. It’s not insubstantial, it’s just had all the fat trimmed. These are books that move. The third one, I Don’t Want To Kill You, is apparently coming out at the end of March.

You can find Mr. Monster online at McNally Robinson.