Friday, May 4, 2012

Book Review: Dan Wells' "Mr. Monster" (Spoilers)

Awhile back, I reviewed Dan Wells' book I Am Not A Serial Killer, which I learned about on the Writing Excuses podcast.

Now I've gotten around to reading Mr. Monster, the second book in the trilogy.  Here comes my review...

The Good

It's a pretty quick read.  It couldn't have taken me more than two hours to finish--a couple of chapters at the beginning, then most of the book while on the elliptical at the L.A. Fitness, and maybe half an hour tops to finish it after working out.  My main problem with the first book was that it was slow-moving, and that's not an issue here.

Wells foreshadows that protagonist John Wayne Cleaver's sister Lauren's boyfriend Curt is bad news when he constantly belittles her, ostensibly in a joking fashion, at a family dinner.  When Lauren shows up crying saying he'd hit her, that's no surprise.

Bully Rob Anders physically attacking Cleaver, whom he is convinced is a killer, builds well on an earlier incident in Mr. Monster in which he claims Cleaver wants to kill him but is afraid of getting caught and the confrontation at the school dance in I Am Not a Serial Killer which Cleaver messes with his mind.  I haven't read I Don't Want To Kill You, the third book in the trilogy, but Anders could make himself very problematic.

The revelation that the FBI agent Forman is another demon came as kind of a shock, but not a bad one.  His emotion-sensing/feeding abilities that he reveals in more detail once he takes Cleaver to his house of horrors (more on that later) are foreshadowed by his rant about Stephanie the receptionist.  And the cliffhanger ending of Chapter 14 ("you tell me how you killed a god") was really good.

I also liked one of Forman's lines where he describes what the demons (in particular the one who masqueraded as Mr. Crowley in the first book) are like from their point of view:

"When your ancestors crawled out of the muck and howled at the darkness it was he who answered them, great and terrible."

That gave me that weird tingly feeling I get in my scalp sometimes.

And the house of horrors...yikes.  I read through that part as quickly as possible because I wanted to get through it.  It reminded me entirely too much of this nasty horror book I read part of on Smashwords involving some sicko who kept a woman in a cage barely bigger than she was for 17 years, feeding her only baby formula he made too hot on purpose, that reduced her to something resembling a concentration-camp victim. Only there were several such women and although there was less starvation, there was a lot more torture.  Particularly twisted was the person bricked up alive in a wall except for eye holes so she had to watch Forman torture others.

If Wells wanted to make the point that this was what the "demons" were typically like and Crowley was less horrifically bad because he'd discovered love and was living as a human (and killed only to maintain his human form when it was falling apart), he's done a darn good job.  I'm including this under the "good" because even though it wasn't pleasant to read, it inspired an emotional reaction and that means Wells is a good writer.

I liked the trap he laid for Forman that ultimately killed him and how he used his anticipation of killing him (that Forman could sense) to make Forman think he anticipated killing Brooke--until Forman grabbed an electrified knife.  Goodbye.  :)

The ending line when he has Forman's cell phone and calls one of the people he recognizes as another demon and flat-out challenges her was really well-done.

"Because you're next," I said.  "I'm the demon slayer.  Come and get me."

That needs to be on the TVTropes page for "Crowning Moment of Awesome."  Sociopath or not, he at least recognizes he's got a problem and tries to keep the problem contained.  That automatically makes him higher on the moral food chain than 10,000-odd year old sadistic supernatural predators who he's just declared war on.

And considering how the dying Forman claims to have won--prior to this he tried to force Cleaver to torture and kill Curt and then his sort-of girlfriend Brooke--that seems nice and ominous.  Cleaver has had less control over his darker side in this story than before and many of Forman's actions were intent on breaking even that.  It's like Star Wars, with Palpatine goading Luke into killing him in hopes of converting him to the Dark Side.  Cleaver might be more dangerous to the demons now, but he's also more dangerous to a lot of other people too.

The Bad

Some of the characterizations of Cleaver undermine his diagnosis as a sociopath.  For example, when he learns Curt is abusing Lauren, his volcanic reaction seems to indicate emotional attachment.  Sociopaths cannot feel emotional attachments.  Cleaver might realistically get that angry on territorial grounds--Lauren is HIS sister and nobody can mess with her because he is HIS.  He'd view her as a prized possession or a pet, not a person.  However, that does not seem to be the case.

Another example is when Brooke breaks up with him because her being with him reminds her of what happened in Forman's house of horrors.  One of the major traits of sociopathy is lack of empathy.  Wells' illustrated that well in the first book when he had Cleaver recount torturing animals as if he were playing with Legos--it was like he was unaware of their suffering.

When Brooke breaks up with him, he should have at least some initial difficulty understanding her reasoning.  Heck, he could be upset at her "ingratitude" for saving her life and that would make things even more unpleasant for both of them.

Also, it's not really clear why Curt went to all the extra effort of setting Forman's house on fire.  If he thought Cleaver was in league with Forman--he certainly has grounds for it--burning the house down rather than waiting for Cleaver to come out gains him nothing.

Furthermore, since Cleaver killing the cat represents the worst violation of his rules for restraining his dark side, I think it should have been more significant.  I've heard people (Wells himself?) describing that as particularly horrifying, but it was over too quickly.

The Verdict

Not as pleasant a read as I Am Not a Serial Killer, but deals with some of the first book's flaws.  Definitely not for all tastes.  8 out of 10.


  1. " this nasty horror book I read part of on Smashwords involving some sicko who kept a woman in a cage barely bigger than she was for 17 years, feeding her only baby formula he made too hot on purpose, that reduced her to something resembling a concentration-camp victim."

    Hi, do you remember the title/ author of the book?

  2. No. All I remember is that according to the book jacket there was going to be some kind of attack on the town by aliens or malevolent supernatural forces...the sicko just happened to be in the area at the time and part of the story was from his POV.