Filler content with a monster

A review that originally appeared in Black Static #20:-

MR MONSTER (Headline paperback, 278pp, £6.99) by Dan Wells is the sequel to I Am Not a Serial Killer, which I haven’t read, but now kind of wish I had. It’s the story of sixteen year old John Cleaver, who goes to school, works part-time in the family’s mortician business and is a sociopath. Fortunately he has the support of his mother, and a whole list of rules and regulations which he adheres to religiously to keep on the straight and narrow. None of this stops other people looking at him somewhat askance, or the FBI agent in town to investigate the Clayton Killer (from the last book) asking a lot of questions of the precocious teen. All the same, John is managing his condition, and is even prepared to risk taking on a girlfriend, high school hottie Brooke. But then dead girls start showing up in town, and Clayton once again becomes the epicentre of a hunt for a serial killer, and John is the only one who knows that it’s a new killer in town, as he disposed of the old one. The only way he can solve this particular case and save the people he ‘cares’ about, is to embrace the Mr Monster side of his personality.

Okay, so far, so Dexter, right down to the rules of engagement and the supportive parent, the well-meaning but strained attempts to connect with other human beings, and providing an outlet for his sociopathic tendencies in killing bigger monsters than himself. Where the book strikes gold for originality is in the use of demons as the bad guys, and at the same time it neatly sidesteps some of the dubious, but interesting, moral dilemmas implicit in Dexter, also losing much of the black comedy. Ultimately then what we get is Dexter as one of the Winchester boys from Supernatural.

It’s a winning mix, with plenty of twists and turns in the telling, and a back story that is seamlessly inserted into the present narrative. John is an engaging character, somebody we probably wouldn’t like but can still respect for his efforts to do the right thing, the ultimate outsider who desperately wants to fit in, the monster as Everyman, his trials and rites of temptation the same that we all undergo, only in his case of far more consequence should he be found wanting. The rest of the dramatis personae, from immature bullies who really don’t realise exactly whose cage they’re rattling, to high school hotties who go for the strong, dark and deadly type, are portrayed with conviction.

The prose is gleefully uncomplicated, and for much of the book it comes over as an almost amiable narrative, but Wells never loses sight of the horror heartland and he doesn’t turn away when there’s a need for gore on the floor, with repellent pictures of dead bodies and scenes of torture, all culminating in an edge of the seat showdown between John and his evil nemesis, in a backwoods stronghold where he tortures his female victims, revelling in their pain. The monster here is memorable, both for the way in which he acts towards John and the suspicion, slowly becoming concrete, that he is so much more than we can imagine. The book ends on the hint of further things to come, that John will stop waiting for the demons to come to him and assume a more proactive role in tracking them down, and the whole cosmology hinted at holds quite some potential for future fun and games.

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