Dr. Neblin was found dead across the street from your house. You were covered in his blood, though you claim you were trying to help him escape the Clayton Killer. That all seemed pretty believable, especially given that you were the one who called the police that night. But this … this changes everything.
It has been several months since John Cleaver put an end to a string of murders in his hometown, a confrontation in which he’d been forced, an adolescent sociopath, to unleash the potential serial killer within himself. Having finished off the creature responsible for the killings, though, he’s finding it difficult to bring his darker side, a personality he thinks of as “Mr. Monster,” back under control. Now sixteen years old, John is driving, dating … and he’s breaking the rules that keep the people around him safe.
On top of this, another killer with a new M.O. has come to town, leaving a startling new trail of bodies that seems to be sending a message to John specifically. If this killer is anything like the last one, Mr. Monster may be, once again, the only one who can stop the killing. But only as long is John is able to resist the terrifying urge to add to the body count himself.
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No matter the situation, whatever the specific author or genre or series, sequels can be a dicey business. It’s no simple thing for an author to give fans the same kind of experience they had with an earlier book while also giving them something innovative and fresh. When it came to Dan Wells‘s daringly dark I Am Not a Serial Killer, it was especially hard to imagine a sequel being a workable idea at all.
For one thing, how were readers supposed to overlook astronomically unbelievable odds that two serial killers—two supernatural serial killers—would strike in the same town within months of each other? The same hapless, week-after-week heroism that has strained credibility in less realistic narrative universes (Murder, She Wrote; Buffy the Vampire Slayer; Smallville) simply could not have worked in this case. Wells’s solution in Mr. Monster is neatly played, though: the second killer has not turned up by chance.
Another much more significant challenge for Wells was further exploring the dangerous balance in his protagonist, a legitimately troubled young man who fantasizes about hurting, destroying, and killing even as he goes to extreme measures to protect and save people. After I Am Not a Serial Killer, where else could this character possibly be taken that readers would willingly follow? John Cleaver does, in fact, reach whole new levels of scary in Mr. Monster as he sometimes resists and sometimes indulges his inner demon, and as a reader you are constantly kept on edge guessing which way he’s going to lean in a particular instance. For me the most suspenseful scenes were when John was spending time alone with the pretty girl from two doors down: you never knew if this sweet, budding teenage romance was going to very suddenly get very ugly. But the story returns tenaciously to John’s desires to be a good person, again and again, and in this I think Wells maintains a sympathetic character whose plight, though extreme, is not unlike the conflict we all experience between what we want and what is right.
Like I Am Not a Serial Killer, this book is not for everyone. Mr. Monster is dark, darker than its predecessor, even. Dark like Disturbia, or some episodes of The X-Files and Supernatural. If you like these sorts of stories, if you liked I Am Not a Serial Killer, my guess is that Mr. Monster is probably going to work for you, too.
My grade: A-