I let the author talk me into buying this book despite the fact that it was too scary for me. He promised I would have many nightmares. I can say with deepest sarcasm, thanks, Dan. This is one hell of a disturbing book.
John Wayne Cleaver, as you’ll read from any blurb, is a psychopathic 15-year-old kid who has an obsession with serial killers. The fact that he works in a mortuary with his mother and aunt is perhaps the most healthy and well-adjusted thing about him. When he’s not sewing up corpses or filling the bodies with embalming fluid, he’s mentally dissecting the lives of serial killers, trying to figure out what makes them tick.
Let’s be honest for a minute here: I hate serial killers.I have never watched Dexter, or Natural Born Killers, or many of those other shows and movies that glorify sick f*cks who ought to be put down like rabid dogs. I don’t find them fascinating, and honestly, I’m a little unnerved by the people who do. So it surprised me quite a bit to find myself so captivated by this book.
Why did I so much enjoy a book about a serial killer? First of all, as the title states, John is not a serial killer. He has many antisocial tendencies, true, but who hasn’t fantasized about killing people before? (TMI? Whoops, I mean, not that I ever have. Of course not.) Like an autistic person, he knows how normal people behave, and he copies them, but he’d just going through the motions. He feels like an outsider. He doesn’t connect with people emotionally, and he knows that other people feel things that he doesn’t.
There are two monsters in this book. One is the serial killer (who is not human, which mitigates my aversion considerably). Like John, the demon looks nice and presents a pleasant face to everyone around him, even to people who ought to know him better. The second monster is the metaphorical one inside John, the one he keeps carefully locked away with his rules. John has to let the monster out in order to stop the demon who is killing people, and the reader (as well as John himself) doesn’t know if the monster can be contained again.
There’s a lot at stake with this book. Is John going to be able to stop the demon? Will he end up killing innocent people? Will he be fingered as the serial killer himself? Will the demon discover his identity and kill John first? His internal struggle is equally intriguing. I think everyone has a monster hidden inside themselves, and we wonder what havoc will be caused if the monster is let out. John’s not as different as he thinks he is, he’s just a little farther left on the empathy spectrum than most people. I felt engaged with the main character, because I wanted so very much to believe that he was a good person, and yet there’s so much evidence that he isn’t. He acts very heroic, and yet he is also a thin veneer of civility away from becoming the worst monster ever. All those tortured vampires struggling with their inner evil? They got nothing on John Wayne Cleaver. This kid’s the real deal.
I recommend this book for teens, creepy little kids, people who love serial killers, and anyone who likes to psychoanalyze strangers. I don’t recommend it for pregnant women, new mothers, or anyone else who gets squicked out.