John Wayne Cleaver is a teenage sociopath. He lacks the ability to form emotional connections with people and to feel empathy. He is also obsessed with serial killers. Having studied serial killers and their habits and psychological profiles he has begun to recognize in himself many of the signs of their behavior. Afraid of becoming one of the subjects of his obsession he creates a series of rules to govern himself based on how he observes others behaving around each other.
In the previous two books he was forced to compromise and even break those rules to save the people of his community from a terrifying demon that was in their midst. Now the consequences of those actions have come around full circle and John is forced to confront his own personal nightmare and to look it in the eye.
Another serial killer has come to town and in the midst of yet another killer stalking the streets there has been a rash of suicides in the community. John knows the killer is a demon… because he invited her to come to town. Now he needs to find her and kill her so that she cannot hurt anybody else.
If these stories were told by anybody else they wouldn’t be worth reading. John has a wry sense of humor that he employs at just the right times to make us laugh even while we are ready to cry for him.
Many people refer to the humor of these books as the element that makes John likeable and I suppose that might be part of it. I think it’s more than that. His particular disability makes him incapable of empathy and he tends to fantasize about killing and hurting people. But he doesn’t. He overcomes his desires and temptations. That struggle is what relates him to all of us. Everybody struggles – hopefully not with a desire to kill – and most people know what its like to walk away from something that we know we want right now but we will regret later. That makes John one of us and it can be rather shocking how familiar many of his problems feel.
Dan Wells has written a trilogy of books – and I hope even more – that should not ever have to end. They are the kind of stories that you can’t put down but fervently hope the end is farther away than it is.
It’s kind of a staple of young adult fiction that the main character must have a broken or dysfunctional family – look at any Disney family for example – and these books are no exception. The difference is that John’s mother really does love him and he really does love her. He shows it in odd ways, he is, after all, a sociopath, and they don’t always get along but they love each other. His father is a different story.
There is physical danger to character in this book but the parts where Dan Wells tears your heart out and squeezes it in his fist are the parts where John realizes that he’s going to have to let out Mr. Monster in order to save people that he is incapable of caring about.
This book gets marketed as horror but it is so much more than that.