Thursday, October 14, 2010

Review of Mr. Monster by Dan Wells

Mr. Monster is the sequel to I am not a Serial Killer. John Cleaver is a teenage sociopath.  He lacks empathy and compassion, and shows most of the traits of a burgeoning serial killer.  He is not, however, a bad person.  He knows the difference between right and wrong, and has a list of rules he follows to keep himself from becoming the monster he knows he might be.  Mr. Monster is what he calls that part of himself that dreams of torturing those closest to him.  He might be able to hold Mr. Monster in check, but he can't slay him.  Because sometimes, he needs that part of himself.

In the first book, John's small town is haunted by a real serial killer, and it's not long before John discovers that the killer is not human.  It is only by letting Mr. Monster out, just a little, that John can stalk and kill the real monster.

The question of the second book is whether John can contain Mr. Monster again.  At first, it looks like he'll be able to manage as long as he starts keeping his rules, even the ones he had to break last time.  But the killings have started again, and John may need to let his own monster out to stop them.

Mr. Monster is what is sometimes called a Terror novel--one that's more psychological, where you fear for the sanity of the protagonist rather than his health.  And that is certainly the case here.  John is scarier than any of the supernatural dangers we've seen so far.  The absolutely most frightening part of the book is not when John faces down the demon, but when he starts dating.  He likes the girl, and she likes him, but he has to break many of his rules to act normal on a date, and we get to watch as his control on Mr. Monster slips further away.  I won't tell you exactly how far it slips, but it's a relief when he's fighting for his life against the real serial killer.

And that is in large part what makes this book different from the first.   In the first book, John knew who the monster was, and spent most of the book stalking him--in the modern sense.  That included threatening letters and anonymous tips to the police: ways he could keep the demon off-balance until he could find a way to kill him.  The way he does find shows exactly how dangerous John can be.  But in this book, we spend most of it not knowing who the new demon is.  He's just background while we watch John's psychological drama unfold.  To his credit, Dan Wells brings the drama to a head in the confrontation with the real demon.  Unfortunately, when we did see the real demon, he was something of a let-down.  He just seemed a lot less frightening in the end than the first one.

Overall, I do think this was an excellent book.  The psychological drama worked well, which it had to, since the external threat was ultimately disappointing.

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