By Marty Mulrooney
Nothing Left To Lose is the latest – possibly final – novel in the John Wayne Cleaver series of books written by Dan Wells. Following on from I Am Not A Serial Killer (which was recently adapted into a wonderful feature film starring Max Records and Christopher Lloyd), Mr Monster, I Don’t Want To Kill You, The Devil’s Only Friend and Over Your Dead Body, Nothing Left To Lose finds John hunting down monsters in a small town in Arizona. With the FBI on his tail and the Dark Lady ready for a fight, it’s only a matter of time before the blood starts flowing…
“Do you know me?”
I shook my head “I don’t. I’m sorry.”
The woman stared again, then leaned in close.
”Run from Rain,” she whispered.
Then she turned around and ran out the door.
Nothing Left to lose begins with a viewing at a funeral home. It’s the only way John can get close enough to a dead body he’s interested in – how the hell does someone drown when they’re nowhere near water?! – without drawing too much attention to himself. Still a drifter wanted by the FBI and a variety of monsters, this time he’s travelling alone. Hunting alone. He’s already lost his family and the girl he loves, so he has nothing left to lose.
The Arizona town of Lewisville is the perfect place to stage John’s last stand against the Withered. Over Your Dead Body saw John hitchhiking from town to town, offering an exciting change of pace from the previous books in the series. Yet the book that started it all – I Am Not A Serial Killer – came from much more humble beginnings, taking place solely in John’s hometown of Clayton. Confining the action here to another small American town just feels right.
Moving the bag exposed his arms, and Margo and I started at them in surprise.
His forearms had one spot each, perfectly hand-shaped, with no burned flesh whatsoever.
“Well,” said Margo. “You don’t see that every day.”
“Thank goodness,” I said.
You can almost feel the text pulsating with energy as John stands in a funeral home for the first time in a long time. His excitement is palpable – and for long-time fans of the series, relatable – as he manages to sweet-talk his way into a job at the attached mortuary. John Wayne Cleaver and the preparation of dead bodies has always been, and always will be, a marriage made in heaven. He was born to beautify corpses.
Of course, he has an ulterior motive beyond both his own and the reader’s nostalgia. He has tracked down the Withered to this location and employment at the small-town mortuary is the perfect way to hide in plain sight. It also allows him to claim first dibs on the bodies of the victims. So begins a fine balancing act of deceit and ever-present danger, where carefully placed motion sensors chime every time someone uses an entrance or exit and the FBI are only ever one visit away.
“Stay behind me,” he whispered, and I dropped back half a step as we walked carefully toward the open motel room. We could smell the blood before we even reached the door.
Mills pushed the door open with one hand, keeping his gun up and ready in the other, but then we saw the inside of the room and all formality disappeared.
Nothing Left To Lose takes all the atypical ingredients that have made the series so devilishly enjoyable and mixes them together in exciting new ways. There is a sense of finality to the proceedings that makes the tension almost unbearable at times, but it’s a surprisingly upbeat read. Dan Wells knows this character and his world inside out, and is able to find humour in even the darkest of moments.
There are plenty of surprises along the way and the only downside to turning the pages so quickly is that this could very well be the last chance we get to spend time inside the head of the most loveable sociopath ever committed to paper. The ending undoubtedly stretches believability, but it’s worth it to see John getting the last chapter he deserves. If this does turn out to be his final adventure, there is no doubt: he has been left in the perfect place.
9 OUT OF 10