By Marty Mulrooney
I Don’t Want To Kill You by Dan Wells is the third and final book in the John Cleaver trilogy. Protagonist John Cleaver finally has Mr Monster under control. Taking place a short time after the events of the previous book, John has become obsessed with hunting down an elusive female demon known only as Nobody and will stop at nothing to kill her. The scariest 16-year-old sociopathic mortician in modern literature is back and this time, he means business.
I’ve seen a lot of sick, gory stuff, and I’ve even done some of it myself. I’ve been through a lot, to put it simply, but Jenny Zeller’s death was different. Somehow, this one, simple suicide – that I didn’t even witness – was the hardest to deal with.
I Don’t Want To Kill You starts off with a bang. Clayton County is only just beginning to recover from the previous two serial killers that came to town when the Handyman arrives. He lops off his victim’s hands and tongues, before rolling them over and repeatedly stabbing them in the back. Everyone is terrified. Everyone, that is, except John Cleaver, who is convinced that the Handyman is in fact the female demon he spoke to on Forman’s phone at the end of Mr Monster. Which explains why he has been cold calling and terrorising every woman in town since. For the greater good.
John Cleaver has certainly grown extensively as a character since I Am Not A Serial Killer and Mr Monster. His impulses are more repressed here, his goals clearer than ever. He won’t kill humans, but demons are fair game and he desperately wants to fulfil his murderous desires. He has a hunger to feed. Meanwhile, the growing number of young females committing suicide is making his blood boil. You could be forgiven for thinking that this latest book is retreading old ground, playing things safe. Yet Dan Wells has no intention of offering safety to his readers. Once the scene is set, all hell breaks loose.
I could kill her now – strike first, before she knew I’d learned her secret. And then with time and the proper tools I could learn all her secrets; I could pry her open and find the demon inside. I could finally understand.
My hands were shaking, trembling in time to Marci’s sobbing body.
Get up and leave.
The inclusion of Marci into John’s life, one of the most popular girls at school, is not only a curve ball that comes from seemingly nowhere, but a narrative masterstroke that dictates the subsequent tone and events of the entire book. Brooke, John’s previous squeeze, saw a flash of Mr Monster within his eyes and couldn’t handle it. Yet Marci seems to revel in John’s skills as a criminal profiler and aspiring serial killer hunter. John is soon treading upon dangerous ground. Brooke was mostly a form of cover, a way of appearing relatively normal. Marci might be the real deal. How can love have any place in the heart of an emotionless sociopath?
The relationship between these two teenagers is written in a beautifully honest manner, never forced, always anchoring them amidst the unravelling horror that surrounds them both. Marci turns out to have hidden depths that her social rank at school would have never even hinted at. John dances with her at one point and for the first time in his entire life, makes a connection that he actually feels for once. The stakes are being raised. John is starting to become more empathetic. More human. Somehow, reading these shared moments evokes a sense of dread that surpasses even the Handyman’s ongoing work. Nothing ever goes to plan for John. Can he come out of this latest hunt unscathed? Can Marci?
I saw Crowley and Forman, both in the same position – helpless on the ground, looking up as I ended their lives. Two down, and one more makes three. Three was a charm. Three was a pattern. By legal definition, three victims made you a serial killer.
And I am not a serial killer.
The various twists and turns of I Don’t Want To Kill You far surpass those found in the previous two books, with the mystery unravelling in a believable way that constantly surprises with the answers it offers. John is just as terrifying as ever, but surprisingly, he has never been more endearing either. Calling him relatable may sound rather odd, but I felt he was nonetheless. His problems are different from most teenager’s certainly, but overall, he only wants to do the right thing and find his place in the world.
The resolution of I Don’t Want To Kill You is stone cold perfection. Upsetting, shocking, poignant and fitting, I doubt fans of the series will walk away disappointed after reading the closing chapters. I was initially unsure about the supernatural element of I Am Not A Serial Killer, yet lo and behold, it has panned out beautifully over the course of the subsequent two sequels. I hope John Cleaver returns to the written page again at some point in the future. Climbing inside his head has proven to be a scary, darkly humorous and surprisingly heart-wrenching experience. Already one of the best books of 2011.
10 OUT OF 10