This review contains minor spoilers for Mr. Monster
I Don’t Want To Kill You is the final entry in the John Cleaver trilogy by Dan Wells, following I Am Not A Serial Killer and Mr. Monster, and it brings the series to a thrilling conclusion.
Having finally come to terms with the darkness inside him that he calls ‘Mr. Monster,’ teenage sociopath John Cleaver makes it his personal mission to hunt down and destroy demons as I Don’t Want To Kill You continues his story. This time, John has made the first move and invited a demon to his hometown of Clayton—but he soon realizes that taking the fight to them hasn’t given him the upper hand.
A strong conclusion
I Don’t Want To Kill You doesn’t bring a lot of new material to the series, and as a result there isn’t a lot to be said about it, but it’s the book’s execution that makes it the standout entry in the trilogy. Structurally, Wells takes the same approach with I Don’t Want To Kill You that he took with Mr. Monster; he sacrifices the immediacy and intensity of I Am Not A Serial Killer in favor of a slower build, concentrating both on developing the characters and layering on the tension. What makes it different from Mr. Monster is that this time it works. Even though the story pulls together slowly, Wells manages to keep the reader engaged throughout the entire novel.
An intriguing premise
The final pages of Mr. Monster gave the reader a very clear expectation for I Don’t Want To Kill You, and this book works because it delivers on that promise from the very beginning. The story is direct, focused, and doesn’t waste time getting to the point. This hooks the reader in right from the start, and Wells has created a seductive story that kept me constantly guessing, rethinking my guesses, and most importantly, itching to keep turning the pages to find out what would happen next. I thought I had the book figured out at one point, but Wells still managed to completely subvert my expectations in a way that never felt cheap or unsatisfying. He has constructed a story that works on every level and executes it masterfully from beginning to end. Everything clicks together in this book in a way that it never did in either of the previous two.
A natural progression
While I Don’t Want To Kill You follows the same basic plot as its predecessors, Wells does expand on certain elements and themes from the previous books, all of which help make this final entry feel like a new story despite its repetitive plot. John’s conflict with his internal darkness has all but disappeared in this book, but this feels like a logical continuation from the second book rather than a major element that Wells simply tossed aside in favor of new ideas. Instead, the new struggles that John explores fall perfectly in place in the story; he is challenged by both the way other people see him and the way he sees himself. He must bring into question everything that he has done thus far in the series and find a way to fit into society while still being himself. This is perhaps the greatest success of the series as a whole: Wells takes a single character and forces him to grow across all three books without ever losing sight of who he is at the core. By this final book he has become a very different person from the John Cleaver we saw at the beginning of I Am Not A Serial Killer, but he remains true to his character right to the very end.
Why should you read this book?
If you’ve already read I Am Not A Serial Killer and Mr. Monster (and if not, why haven’t you?), you’re likely already planning on picking up I Don’t Want To Kill You. Rest assured: this is easily the strongest book in the trilogy, and an extraordinary conclusion to a fantastic series. Everything that worked well in the first two books works again, and everything that didn’t work has been fixed. Wells has taken everything up a notch in I Don’t Want To Kill You, and the results are stunning. I am eagerly anticipating his future work.