I wrote this book because, like my protagonist John Cleaver, I have always been fascinated by serial killers. What makes them tick, and why? How do they see the world differently from the rest of us, and how do they see it the same? Most stories about serial killers focus on whom and how they choose to kill, but even more intriguing to me is the time they spend being completely and utterly normal.
For example, in the course of six years, John Wayne Gacy, Jr. killed at least 33 people. That’s a lot of killing, yes, but most of those years was spent on everyday life: he got up, he ate breakfast, he went to work. On weekends he threw block parties for his neighbors, often dressing up as a clown to entertain the children. How can the same person be so evil and so normal at the same time? How can the two sides of a personality be so completely different?
John Cleaver is the result of pondering that question—a teenage sociopath at a psychological crossroads—and I Am Not a Serial Killer is the first of three books in which he is forced to confront and resolve this rift in his nature. He is very intelligent and self aware; he knows he has the potential to become a serial killer, so he has set strict rules for himself to stay ‘good.’ Yet when his town is struck by a real serial killer, John’s darker side is stirred up. He soon realizes that the police are helpless to stop the monster, which faces him with an impossible choice: follow his rules to protect himself and let the killing continue, or try to destroy the monster and, in so doing, risk becoming a monster himself.
John Cleaver is an ambiguous hero, dark and damaged, but the scariest part is how much of ourselves we see in him. My favorite comment from readers is the guilty confession: “I loved John, even when he was doing things I hated, and sometimes I was shocked at how much I wanted him to succeed at something I would never do myself.” The duality of good and evil is in all of us; we simply react to it in different ways.
You have a lot of great book choices this month, but I hope you’ll take a chance on John Cleaver and I Am Not a Serial Killer. You won’t be disappointed.
I Don't Want to Kill You
The phone rang four times before someone picked up.
“Hello?” A woman. Perfect.
“Hello,” I said, speaking clearly. I’d muffled the receiver with a sweater to mask my voice, and I wanted to make sure she could understand me. “Is this Mrs.Julie Andelin?”
“I’m sorry, who is this?”
I smiled. Right to the point. Some of them babbled on forever, and I could barely get a word in edgewise. So many mothers were like that, I’d learned: home alone all day, eager to talk, desperate for a conversation with anyone over the age of three. The last one I’d called had thought I was from the PTA and talked to me for nearly a minute until I had to shout something shocking just to get her attention. This one was playing along.
Of course, what I had to say was pretty shocking regardless.
“I saw your son today.” I paused. “He’s always such a happy kid.”
How will she react?
“What do you want?”
Once again, right to the point. Almost too practical, perhaps. Is she scared? Is she taking this too calmly? I need to say more.
“You’ll be pleased to know little Jordan walked straight home from day care— past the drugstore, down the street to the old red house, then around the corner and past the apartments and straight home to you. He looked both ways at every street, and he never talked to strangers.”
“Who are you?” Her breathing was heavier now; more scared, more angry. I couldn’t read people very well over the phone, but Mrs. Andelin had been kind enough to answer the phone in the living room, and I could see her through the window. She looked out now, wide eyes peering into the darkness, then quickly wrenched the curtains closed. I smiled. I listened to the air go in and out of her nose, in and out, in and out. “Who are you?” she demanded.
Her fear was real. She wasn’t faking— she was legitimately terrified for her son. Does that mean she’s innocent? Or just a really good liar?
Julie Andelin had worked in the bank for nearly fifteen years, her entire adult life, and last week she had quit. That wasn’t suspicious in itself— people quit jobs all the time, and it didn’t mean anything except that they wanted a new job— butI couldn’t afford to ignore even the smallest lead. I didn’t know what the demons could do, but I’d seen at least one who could kill a person and take its place. Who was to say that this one couldn’t do the same? Maybe Julie Andelin was bored with the bank, but maybe— maybe—she was dead and gone and replaced by something that couldn’t keep up the same routines. A sudden change of lifestyle might be, from a certain point of view, the most suspicious thing in the world.
“What do you want with my son?”
From I DON’T WANT TO KILL YOU by Dan Wells, copyright 2011 by the author and reprinted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.
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