Warning: This book contains some really dark imagery and supernatural elements. If either of those is not what you’re looking for, look elsewhere.
I first heard about the John Cleaver books while listening to the Writing Excuses podcast, which gave me a fairly good idea what I was getting into before I started it.
Essentially, John Wayne Cleaver is a 15 year old boy who lives with his mother above the funeral home she runs. He’s literally a sociopath and fascinated by serial killers. He has a whole list of rules he has to follow to keep himself acting normal and from hurting anyone. He’s a fascinating character and written rather well.
But when a murder comes to the small town he lives in, of course he thinks its a serial killer. And of course he’s correct¹. No one is going to believe the weird 15 year old who’s obsessed with serial killers though, so of course he has to figure out what’s going on himself.
Writingwise, there are a number of creepy/dark details in the story, including some fairly graphic murders. One that particularly intrigued me was the descriptions of embalming. It was such a combination of squicky but also really interesting. I’d never really thought about it much before.
Plotwise, this could have been a straightforward crime thrilled and it would have been a solid book. Instead, we get some amount of supernatural elements. The first hint comes only 17% of the way through the book:
This was the work of the demon, of course, though we still didn’t know that at the time.
People seem perturbed by this. Perhaps I went in knowing that such a thing was going to happen, but I quite enjoyed how it worked out. I want to know more about the world. I want to see what happens next.
Random amusing quote:
“Four years of Cub Scouts,” I said. “It’s the only organization I know that actually teaches little boys how to light things on fire.”
¹ Close enough for when it’s revealed at least.