John works in his family's mortuary and has an obsession with serial killers. He wants to be a good person, but fears he is a sociopath, and for years he has suppressed his dark side through a strict system of rules designed to mimic 'normal' behavior.
Then a demon begins stalking his small town and killing people one by one, and John is forced to give in to his darker nature in order to save them. As he struggles to understand the demon and find a way to kill it, his own mind begins to unravel until he fears he may never regain control. Faced with the reality that he is, perhaps, more monstrous than the monster he is fighting, John must make a final stand against the horrors of both the demon and himself.
About a year ago I started listening to Writing Excuses, a 15 minute long podcast hosted, among others, by Dan Wells. Having received a myriad of good writing advice, I had a natural interest in those writers' works. Yet, when I finally picked up this book, I still didn't have a clear idea of what I was getting myself into.
Plot-wise, the synopsis on Amazon pretty much says all you need to know. Any more and I'm spoiling it for you. What really struck me about this book, though, was not its plot, but its main character. John is our first person POV character and he is possibly the most fascinating character in whose mind I have ever found myself. A teenager, but also a sociopath, with a complete lack of empathy and an obsession with death and violence to boot. Seeing the world through his eyes was both fascinating and terrifying. Even as I rooted for him and hoped he would succeed, I feared for every person he got into contact with. I still don't know whether I actually like him. The only thing I know for sure is that I never want to meet him.
And yet, he kept in me hooked. In fact, at times, I really felt for him and was rooting for him so much that I forgot about the danger he presented to others. Only for Dan Wells to rock me from my position of comfort with lines like these:
"I was really good at pretending to be normal. If you met me on the street you'd never guess how much I wanted to kill you."
"The cars outside drove slowly on the sheet of black ice that covered the street. I hoped one of them slid into a pedestrian."
Observations like this really rattled me. How could I be rooting for someone with such sickening thoughts? And for a while the necessary distance was re-established, until I found myself getting too close again, only to be whacked over the head with another of John's casual thoughts of violence, while everyone around him remained completely oblivious.
I thoroughly enjoyed this books. It was incredibly well researched - my search history is practically tame compared to what Dan Wells' must have looked like - and brilliantly written. Highly recommended! 5 out of 5 stars.