By Marty Mulrooney
Earlier this year I reviewed the amazing debut novel I Am Not A Serial Killer by Dan Wells. Aimed at young adults, it genuinely surprised me how gripping the book proved to be for an older reader such as myself, written as it was from the perspective of a 15 year old sociopathic serial killer hunter. It is one of the best books I have read in a long time, so if you haven’t purchased it already, I recommend you stop reading this review and do so. Because the sequel, Mr Monster, is even better. You won’t want to miss this!
I call my dark side ‘Mr Monster’ – the side that dreams about bloody knives, and imagines what you’d look like with your head on a stick. I don’t have multiple personalities and I don’t hear voices or anything, I just… it’s hard to explain. I think about a lot of terrible things, and I want to do a lot of terrible things, and it’s just easier to come to terms with that side of me by pretending it’s someone else; it’s not John who wants to cut his mother into tiny pieces, it’s Mr Monster. See? I feel better already.
One of modern fiction’s most conflicted antiheros is back. Only this time, John Cleaver is breaking all the rules. His own rules. This is a new game entirely. After killing the demon terrorising Clayton County, you would have thought John would finally have some peace of mind. Yet when we join him during the plot of Mr Monster, age 16, his inner demons are worse than ever, clawing their way out at an alarming rate. And a new serial killer is in town.
John is still the deliciously dark protagonist readers grew to love originally, but this time he feels truly dangerous to those around him. He is slowly losing a vicious battle against himself. Dan Wells writes this in a way only he knows how: we thirstily align ourselves with a young boy whose sole desire in life is to murder his nearest and dearest. His dreams will shock, his inner thoughts will terrify. Yet you will still care.
Mr Monster is a great sequel because it immediately addresses any faults with its predecessor’s ending (my only real criticism last time around), before gathering together the numerous strong aspects of the original story and running with them at breakneck speed.
Reading Mr Monster beforehand isn’t a necessity: Mr Wells has the unique ability to reveal back story and bring new readers up to speed without resorting to stiff exposition. Yet fans of the original novel will surely take greater delight in John Cleaver’s stark character shifts than newcomers; he is a protagonist that you will constantly will to survive despite his crippling mental and social faults.
‘I’m not really a sociopath,’ I said, hiding behind the definition. ‘I have Conduct Disorder, which is much less developed. People my age almost never become serial killers.’
‘Almost never,’ he said, ‘but sometimes.’
Yet perhaps Mr Monster’s greatest triumph is how it defies critics, managing to rise above the original tale. In a recent interview with Mr Wells, he revealed to AMO that I Am Not A Serial Killer was never strictly intended to have a follow up. Of course, this would immediately set off alarm bells in most reader’s heads. After all, I Am Not A Serial Killer was so perfectly self contained, could a franchise emerge without milking the original premise to death?
The answer is both surprising in its simplicity and staggering in its deft execution. This time, John Cleaver is not the hunter. He is the hunted. Mr Monster is eating away at him, and a new serial killer has emerged. That totals two serial killers in Clayton County within the space of a year. Coincidence? I think not.
Somebody is after John and the FBI suspect his involvement. Dating his beautiful next door neighbour Brooke (who he dreams of cutting) should be the least of his worries, yet his sister’s new boyfriend only makes matters worse. Problems are piling up at an alarming rate and Mr Monster is so very hungry…
To reveal anything more would be to enter spoiler territory. My only real complaint is the somewhat stereotypical portrayal of one character in particular, but perhaps this is because everyone else is so believable. I also wanted an explanation regarding a hollow wall… but perhaps some mysteries are better left unsolved.
Suffice to say, Mr Monster far surpasses the original. It is darker, funnier and tighter throughout. The new serial killer is John’s scariest adversary yet and the ending is a downright killer. Expect a third book… the final chapter indicates it is going to be absolutely explosive. This is fast becoming my favourite book franchise. Mr Monster undoubtedly provides one of the best reads of 2010.
Don’t take it.
Nonsense; the knife was honed and sharp, perfect for sliding into the meat of a fish and slicing it clean from end to end. Brooke would love it. I patted the knife in my pocket with satisfaction. Time to go get her.
9.5 OUT OF 10