I’ve mentioned many times that the Writing Excuses podcast is one of my favorite writer resources. More often than not, when I’m trying to share a concept or a rule with another writer, that’s the site I link to. So it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that I’ve read some form of the regular hosts’ work.
Three of the four, anyway. Until recently, I hadn’t read anything by Dan Wells.
I’d heard him talk about his books at length, and “I Am Not a Serial Killer” has been on my must-read list for years. But somehow, it was just a couple of weeks ago that I got around to picking it up.
I really liked it! It had tight pacing, a good mystery, well-developed characters, and some truly chilling horror. The next book in the series, “Mr. Monster”, has shot close to the top of the list of books to read next.
The best part, in my opinion, was the dialogue. This book has some of the best dialogue I’ve ever read. Sure, the first couple of chapters feel like they’re trying to get you up to speed without going into infodump territory. But once the book really starts, the dialogue is elevated to astounding heights. The words the characters spoke felt real, felt appropriate to them. And yet the dialogue never deteriorated into a caricature of the real thing, like dialogue that’s trying to sound realistic often does. It was a driving force in my enjoyment of the novel.
The prose was sparse and clean while still giving a good picture of what was happening. John’s character development felt natural for the most part, and the evolution of his thought processes throughout the book is really interesting to read.
The weak point, I feel, was that the physical danger that John was in never really hit home for me. I never really felt the tension of wondering if things would go so badly he’d get hurt. Even in the climax, I didn’t really fear for his safety. I think the author himself talks about “alternative fail states”, in which something else could happen that would be as bad or worse than the main character’s death. I did feel some tension from this angle.
I also didn’t feel a connection with most of the characters—which, in a novel narrated by a teenage sociopath, go figure. The villain was great, but the climax lacked the fulfillment of what I felt was a promise throughout the novel. And while the humor was present, it was nowhere near as funny as I had been led to expect.
Many of my issues with the story stem from being somewhat spoiled on it by extensive listening of the podcast, rather than actual flaws in the book itself. “I Am Not a Serial Killer” is a fun little Thriller/Horror that I read over the course of two sittings. If I had to do it over, I’d definitely grab this book a lot sooner. It certainly won’t be years before I pick up the sequel.