By Marty Mulrooney
Over Your Dead Body is the latest novel in the popular John Wayne Cleaver series of books by Dan Wells. Following on from I Am Not A Serial Killer, Mr Monster, I Don’t Want To Kill You and The Devil’s Only Friend, Over Your Dead Body finds John and his possessed childhood friend Brooke hitchhiking from town to town as they try to track down and kill the last of the Whithered – ancient demons that hide in plain sight – and stay one step ahead of the FBI.
She sat up, wiping the tears and dirt from her face. “I love you, John,” she said.
“I know you do.” I tried to say it back—I always tried to say it back—but I couldn’t make the words come out. I’d only ever loved one person, but Nobody had possessed Marci and killed her before moving on to Brooke, now almost two years ago. The monster had come for her, and I was one victim too late to save her. At least I’d saved Brooke.
And guessed I was going to keep saving her until the day I died.
Following the explosive events of The Devil’s Only Friend (which AMO described as “a thrilling page-turner of a book that proves there’s still plenty of life – and plenty of worthwhile stories to tell – in the death-saturated world of John Cleaver”), Over Your Dead Body brings the series back to somewhat familiar territory. Whereas the previous book placed John in a team environment that was entirely alien and completely unsustainable to him, this latest instalment in the series sees him striking out alone once again.
Almost alone. He’s joined by Brooke, who was previously possessed by a monster called Nobody who had possessed tens of thousands of other girls, fusing all of their personalities and memories with hers. At any given moment, John isn’t sure who he’s speaking to. Sometimes it’s Brooke, but often it’s not… and then the one person he never thought he’d speak to again says hello and his whole world comes crashing down. It’s safe to say this isn’t the best place to start in the series – I’d highly recommend reading the previous books, which are all excellent, before embarking on this latest demon hunting adventure across the American Midwest.
“We have to go back to Dillon,” said Brooke. “We missed a Withered.”
I nodded slowly, turning to look her in the eyes. “Who are you?”
“Who do you think?” she said, and her eyes showed a sign of hurt. “I’m Brooke.”
The previous book in the series was well written as always, but it was often difficult to get to know – and therefore grow to like – the supporting characters because everything was shown from John’s immensely dissatisfied point of view. To say he’s not a people person is an understatement. The point of view hasn’t changed in Over Your Dead Body, but John has. Brooke, and one personality in particular residing inside her, are the only two people he cares about in the world. He’s done with the FBI. He’s now a drifter on a mission where every dollar and cent counts. It’s refreshing to have the character back, ready to kick ass, mostly free of constraints.
Although the situation is a sad one for John – he’s effectively homeless and a fugitive on the run – it’s an immensely satisfying turn of events for fans of the series. John is back to his best, operating outside the law to kill monsters nobody even realises exist. Brooke is the perfect partner in crime, unpredictable, suicidal and crazy in love with the sociopath who protects her from the monsters and herself. Their interactions make up the majority of the book and never fail to entertain even when they’re incredibly sad. Her fractured memories are the only clue where to head and where to hunt next. Joined by their dog Dog Boy (John didn’t name him), they make an undeniably peculiar family unit… but for the most part, it works.
“I wish Attina had killed him,” said Nobody.
“Be careful what you wish for,” I said. “Wishes are coming true a lot more often than they should.”
Over Your Dead Body doesn’t have the scariest Whithered of the series but it does have one of the most inventive and interesting ones, a killer who defies every principle of profiling and prediction John knows how to use. The truly scary part is that the killings in the small town of Dillon don’t begin until after John and Brooke have passed through the town. The killings are seemingly random and make no logical sense. Are they to blame? Are they doing more harm than good? It’s a puzzle that continually drives the narrative and clicks satisfyingly into place once the final chapters arrive.
Over Your Dead Body is yet another superb instalment in the John Wayne Cleaver series that echoes the delightful eeriness of the earlier books while exploring exciting new territory. The realistic depiction of the fantastical dangers lurking within small town America is superb and the difficulties John and Brooke face trying to survive day to day are equally gripping. You’ll hitchhike with them down each and every dark highway because their destination is never predictable but always delivers. The surprise ending hints at further adventures to come and I for one can’t wait to see what Dan Wells – and John Wayne Cleaver – do next.
9 OUT OF 10