"I DON'T WANT TO KILL YOU," by Dan Wells, Tor Books, 320 pages, $11.99 (f)
A psychopathic wannabe serial killer teaching moral lessons about finding the best in human nature seems improbable.
But it's the reality of John Wayne Cleaver, the teenage protagonist in Dan Wells’ horror novel “I Don’t Want to Kill You,” which is the last in Wells’ trilogy that also includes “I’m Not a Serial Killer” and “Mr. Monster.”
The fight between good and evil is twisted in Cleaver’s world. He finds he must fight demons who threaten the small town of Clayton all while fighting his own inner demon that threatens to force him into becoming a serial killer similar to the ones he obsessively studies.
Wells, an Orem, Utah, native, digs deep into his title character, producing a social misfit who physically cannot emotionally understand the people around him. With a wry but dark humor that endears him to readers, Cleaver finds the most joy working in his mother’s mortuary embalming the dead: “Dead bodies are calm and silent — perfectly still, perfectly harmless. A corpse will never move, it will never laugh, and it will never judge. A corpse will never shout at you, hit you, or leave you .I feel more comfortable with them than I do with real people.”
Cleaver struggles to find connections and craves to feel anything, even to the extreme of causing pain and perhaps death.
“I Don’t Want to Kill You” finds Cleaver fighting the most dangerous battle of his life as he makes every effort to bury “Mr. Monster” deep into his psyche while protecting the people around him. And Wells deftly entwines lessons on strengthening relationships, standing for what’s right, and even sacrificing for love, all while taking the reader on a roller-coaster ride of a story that surprises, scares and above all, satisfies.
This book rightly fits the horror genre. Wells does not shy away from including darkly disturbing images, frank descriptions of suicides and murders, splatters of blood and gore, and detailed descriptions of embalming techniques. But the reader will come away from “I Don’t Want to Kill You” enriched and inspired, which is frankly the final twist Wells provides in his enthralling and ultimately uplifting trilogy.