Review: Mr. Monster

Posted: March 11, 2010 by in Books We Love (5/5 single_star) Meta: Dan Wells, Horror, Young Adult

When we first started Elitist Book Reviews, we set things rolling with a review of a (then) UK only release. It was a YA Urban Fantasy/Horror novel by Dan Wells that goes by the title; I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER (EBR Review) — a story about John Wayne Cleaver, a young teenager who has all the markers of becoming a serial killer. Think of it as a young Dexter (the Jeff Lindsay character), but much better written, better paced, more character-driven, and containing borderline paranormal aspects done right. In short, it was, for us, one of the best novels released in 2009.

This is the part where we say how much we love Dan Wells, and the character he created in John Cleaver. Not only does the second book, MR. MONSTER (Amazon), live up to the expectations of the fantastic first novel, it completely blows it out of the water. MR. MONSTER is better in every way than its predecessor. If I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER was one of the best novels of 2009, MR. MONSTER is currently one of the best novels of the past FIVE years.

We. Freaking. Loved it.

Now, for your benefit, we should probably mention that we have read this book before. Like, a long time ago, in its draft form. If you haven’t figured it out by now, we are good friends with Dan. We are test readers for him. And before you ask, no, we are not biased. We are friends with plenty of authors whose work we don’t foam from the mouth over. Also, as a final point of interest, MR. MONSTER was just released in the UK, and won’t be available in the US until October-ish.

Anyways, back to the review.

There are a lot of reasons why we loved MR. MONSTER. First of all, we just love being able to read another story about John Wayne Cleaver. MR. MONSTER takes place several months after the events of I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER, and from the first page, we hit the ground running. The final events of the first book have taken a toll on our teenage protagonist. Why is that important? Because Dan shows us within a few pages that all actions have consequences in his story-arc. John Cleaver is a character undergoing a metamorphosis, and it is a measure of Dan’s writing that he can pull it off so convincingly. His PoV is simply one of the best, and one of our favorites, in speculative fiction.

Another great thing about MR. MONSTER is its ability to stand as its own novel. Yes, it is a sequel. Yes, you should read the first book (to FINALLY be released in the US at the end of March). But really, MR. MONSTER is its own… uh… monster. Now what do we mean by this? Well obviously the book isn’t meant to be a stand alone. In fact, pay careful attention to how we said it could stand on its own, not be a standalone. The plot feels fairly episodic, but not in the ridiculous serial drama sort of fashion where the character never changes. No really, a person, in order to appreciate what the protagonist is going through, needs to read the first book. The first is all about preventing the release of John Wayne Cleaver’s inner turmoil. The second focuses, after all that trying to bottle it up, on what happens when it is released.

By setting up the book this way, in an episodic feel, Dan Wells neatly avoids the potential pitfalls of writing the middle book of a trilogy. This time around, John Cleaver is living with the consequences of his actions in book 1. He is dealing with an agent from the FBI. He continues his struggles with a dysfunctional family(Nick’s psychology education takes issue with this phrase, but we will use anyway). And, of course, another killer is on the loose. The contained arc of this story–not to mention the perfect pacing–make this novel one of the best reading experiences you are likely to have… until book 3. Yes, we are cruel for even mentioning it. And yes, we LOVE being cruel this way. Did we mention we have already read book 3 too? Neener Neener.

MR. MONSTER (the name of the book, and also the name John Cleaver gives to his inner killer) is a YA novel, but it is easily better than a majority of “older” fiction. Its accessibility makes it a read that (nearly) everyone can enjoy. However, if we could mention one thing, MR. MONSTER is quite a bit darker than the first book. There are some parts that disturbed us…even on the re-read (Well Steve WAS disturbed by the content, Nick IS disturbed… so it didn’t effect him.). It should in no way keep you from reading the book, but hey, our job is to keep you informed right?

With MR. MONSTER Dan Wells has given us an intense, riveting, gut-wrenching dive into the dark world of the demons within us.

We were asked recently to give a little blurb about MR. MONSTER for potential press stuff. Here is what we said:

With MR. MONSTER Dan Wells has given us an intense, riveting, gut-wrenching dive into the dark world of the demons within us. His main character, John Wayne Cleaver, manages to thoroughly freak us out while simultaneously being one of the most sympathetic characters in the horror genre. Let your own inner monster free, and immerse yourself in this dark, page-turning adventure.

Pretty good eh? Well, now you know what we think.

  • Recommended Age: 15+. This is a tad higher than the rating we gave book one, but the content is a tad more intense in MR. MONSTER.
  • Language: A little. Nothing major.
  • Violence: Uh, yeah. Did we mention we were a little disturbed even though this was our second read-through?
  • Sex: None. This is YA Urban Fantasy/Horror, not effing Gossip Girl (not that we know what that is or anything...)

We want to mention something really quick about book one, I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER. If you haven’t read our review, or even if you have, make sure to go check out what we had to say, due to it’s upcoming US release (Amazon), and make sure you read IANASK itself.

Review for I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER — click HERE (and the actual address for the clicking impaired:

Also, if you’re so inclined, here are some places online where he contributes regularly:

Dan’s Forum:
Time-Wasters Guids

Writing Excuses:
Writing Excuses

Best Place to get the UK Versions of the John Cleaver Novels:
Book Depository


  • Anonymous says:

    I dont know why everyone says this is so much better than serial killer.I prefered serial killer, i mean cmon john doesnt do anything to another human in this book (that would have been refreshing for ya and made for even better drama than now) and in the end of the book it seems like he finnaly conquered that desire and will focus it all on the demons.He just your average demonkiller teenager by then with the serial killer stuff just a gimmick.(hope book three will do awesome stuff with john)

  • bacaninho says:

    I will have to agree that I found the first book much more disturbing than the second, but that's just me. I think the difference for me was the fact that at the end of IANASK, John loses control, and as a reader, I wasn't sure if he was ever going to regain it because he was doing some awful things (trying to be vague here to not leave spoilers). At the end of Mr. Monster, John kinda 'loses control' but not really. It never gets as far as taking action (although it does earlier in the book, but not to the extent that it disturbed me, but then what doesn't bother me may freak out someone else).

    That being said, I really loved the book. I struggled a bit with the first 100 pages because it felt like a family drama at times, but after that, I couldn't put it down. When I finally finished it, the book stuck in my head for days, which is a good sign. I will definitely be reading Full of Holes (Book 3).

    I am curious to know, though, if anyone else figured out what was going on (e.g. who the bad guy is and why) early on in the book? I guessed it about a quarter of the way in, but then the book is intended for YA, and I haven't qualified for that rating for some time . . .

    Even though I guessed it, I still loved it. Seriously. Read the book. Import it from England if you have to.

    • -Slamel- says:

      Actual violent events aren't that disturbing, the thought processes and decision making leading up to it are. Hence why MrM is much darker.

      When you watch TV/Movies how many scenes of violence are depicted? Lots. How many scenes of torture? A lot less (though the prevalence is growing). How many times do we get inside the head of a killer? Even less (the general viewing public has determined that we don't want to know what's inside the head of a killer). Why do you think you can have gruesome and violent deaths all over in PG13 movies, and a singular gruesome torture scene will nearly always bump the rating to R.

      Just a few thoughts as to why most seem to find MrM darker than IANASK.

      • Anonymous says:

        well yes , but in the first book its there too and i think the scene with his mother and with the old lady were pretty dark.In MrM he seems always in control (well except the cat incident) and even manages to stop himself from hurting that jerk boyfriend of his sister (many normal people would like to hurt someone like that) and in the end it feels that way that he will focus all of this stuff on the demons and thats kinda normal teenage demonslayer stuff.

  • First Comment: Don't post spoilers in the comments. We go to great lengths to keep spoilers out of our reviews, and our readers like it that that. Please keep that in mind, and understand why I deleted your prior comment.

    Second Comment: Did I know who the killer was? Well yeah. To me, in Dan's type of books, who the killer IS isn't as important as what the killer DOES. Also, what is the killer's effect on John's fragile internal balance. This is why the Dexter novels have failed miserably in the latest two.

    Third Comment: If John actually killed a human, it would most likely push him forever over the edge. That isn't interesting. The metamorphosis John goes through, for me, is the point of the story. If John kills a human, then he becomes no different than a young version of Dexter. By killing “demons” (that is what John calls them, but not what they really are), the John Cleaver novels differentiate themselves from the Dreadfully Dull Dexter novels. Not to mention, this is an Urban Fantasy/Horror YA novel. Killing something borderline supernatural is much more in line with the “genre” than if John just killed people.

    Fourth Comment: I'd argue that John isn't in control. If you've read the second book, then readers in general should recognize that he is decidedly more out of control than in book 1. He is having to fight much harder on his internal battles than the much more external book 1.

    Just my opinions.

  • Snarky says:

    I only read IANASK after practically having it forced upon me by one of my chums; horror is not exactly a genre I flock to. But I loved it. It was disturbing, intruiguing, and satisfying—a combination I never knew I wanted to experience, but something I eagerly anticipated when I picked up its sequel.

    Mr. Monster exceeded my expections – it was even more compelling and deliciously disturbing than its antecedent. Through masterful storytelling I was subtly drawn into the protagonist’s thoughts and became intertwined in them; never have I felt so uncomfortable in my own skin. The repugnant thoughts and desires of someone who longs to torture and murder for sheer pleasure horrifies and disgusts even more than the actual act, as Nick so aptly said earlier. The combination of those thoughts and the actual violent scenes … I shudder at the mere memory.

    As for the dislike of the familial dynamic, I felt that particular storyline helped explain and added clout to John’s psychotic tendencies; the scenes reinforced and added backbone to the plot. The book would not have been nearly as strong without it. And let's not forget the dialogue that flavours those scenes. Bad dialogue abounds in books. Not here. Here the conversations were believable and flowed naturally, making the characters and their relationships all the more believable.

    One more note to bacaninho – considering the protagonist couldn’t connect with others, and as a consequence had few people with whom he associated, there would be no way for the author to hide the killer from the readers for very long without making the story less believable. Keeping that information a surprise until the last possible minute wasn’t the point of the book, and being able to figure out rather early on in no way detracted from it. It’s horror, dear, not a mystery.

    I know this is lengthy, but I feel I must join with the reviewers in acknowledging the sheer amount of talent it takes to make a sequel outshine its predecessor. Mr. Wells deftly manœuvred his book past the filler pitfall that entombs most of the World of Trilogies’ spurned middle children; a diabolically captivating stand-alone plot evolves from the the foundation of the first book and still manages to set a beautiful stage for an eagerly anticipated finale. Bravo! It’s bloody brilliant!

  • Shivertongue says:

    I was hoping my copy would arrive before this review, so I could join in on the accolades. Alas, it hasn't yet, but hopefully it shall be waiting upon my return home. I have no doubt it will at least be amazing as IANASK was, and am thrilled to see it's better.

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