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Characters / I Am Not a Serial Killer

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WARNING! Due to the books relying heavily on mystery and surprise, the pages would be virtually unreadable with excessive spoiler tags. Therefore, all spoilers from the first trilogy are UNMARKED, and of course, some tropes are spoilers by virtue of entry. Tread carefully.

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Cleaver Family


A lonely young man diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder early on in book one. It's his mission to prove everybody(including himself)wrong about his future and be a good person.

  • Animal Motifs: Cats, particularly tigers. He's enigmatic, solitary, and most people don't like him. His father calls him "tiger", he compares his darker side to a tiger that's scented blood, and thanks to the "what makes a monster and what makes a man?" theme of the first book, it's unclear who is supposed to be the tiger and who the lamb in the poem Crowley recites. His tense, aggressively graceful body language is even reminiscent of an excited cat.
  • Amateur Sleuth / Occult Detective
  • Anti-Hero: Type IV.
  • Ax-Crazy: He tries to be good, but his temper tends to get the best of him, and when it does, it's best to put as much distance between yourself and him as possible.
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: A fact he is keenly aware of, which is why rule #1 is "I will not hurt animals".
  • Blood Knight: He's always down for a good fight. Or murder.
  • Broken Bird: Rare Male Example. His sociopathy was caused, or at least catalyzed, by his father's abuse and abandonment. He pushed away all emotion and intimacy to get rid of the hurt, but got stuck that way as he grew up.
  • Celibate Hero: Invoked as his....unusual definition of intimacy makes him justifiably leery of getting too attached to any one girl.
  • Cry Cute: He mentions that for a long time, he wasn't sure he could cry anymore. So naturally, it's that much more endearing when he does. Special notice goes to him collapsing into his mother's arms after the climax of book one.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Could be the poster boy. He's cynical, reclusive, and obsessed with death, but at heart, he's a good person. Much of the plot revolves around his weaponizing parts of his personality that he doesn't like in order to do good.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Becomes more openly vulnerable and affectionate as he learns to cope with his emotions.
  • Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette
  • Enemy Within / Gollum Made Me Do It: How he personifies his own anger as "Mr. Monster". It's a coping mechanism, distancing his flaws, and when calling Dr. Neblin in a panic, he even says "it wasn't me, the monster did it". Tellingly, he's stopped using it as of I Don't Want To Kill You.
  • Evil Feels Good: Evil feels satisfying, exciting, and is pretty much the only way he knows how to relate to others.
  • Evil Is Petty: Well, antiheroes are. John's bouts of petulance are a common source of humor. Special notice goes to adopting a dog to annoy his roommate.
  • The Fettered
  • Good Is Not Nice / Good Is Not Soft: Principled, determined, courageous-but nice? Not often. He does what needs to be done and won't apologize for it.
    Diana: Normal people can't just turn off their human nature whenever it becomes inconvenient!
    John: Sucks for them, then!
  • Heartbroken Badass: In The Devil's Only Friend.
  • Hero with an F in Good: He isn't exactly cut from the typical cloth.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: He spends most of the second trilogy on the run from the FBI after going AWOL at the end of book 1. As a result most people view him as a drifter at best or a dangerous fugitive at worst.
  • I Can't Believe a Guy Like You Would Notice Me: He's baffled by Marci's attentions, to the point of considering if she might be Nobody in disguise, just trying to get close enough to hurt him.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: Or, as he puts it, "a real boy".
  • Inferiority Superiority Complex: He doesn't think much of himself, but still tends towards arrogance and is always sure his solution is the best.
  • Innocently Insensitive: Oh so much.
  • Insecure Love Interest: Even after Marci verbatim states why she's so fixated on him, he can't understand why somebody as beautiful and beloved as she is wouldn't go for literally anyone else.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: He returns Brooke home, against her objections, at the end of The Devil's Only Friend because he believes it's the best choice for her.
  • Jerkass Woobie: He's abrasive, cold, and openly sadistic, but damn if you don't want to give him a hug.
  • Jumped at the Call: Initially.
    Hulla: Kanta. I was wondering if you would survive.
    John: He didn't. I killed him. Mkhai too. Thousands of years, gone in a second.
    Hulla: Why are you telling me this?
  • Knife Nut: Does Not Like Guns, as they're too easy to accidentally hurt someone with, and not nearly personal enough when you find someone you do want to hurt.
    Strip everything away and this is who I was. A man with a knife; feared, respected, able to do or say anything I wanted to.
  • Love Hungry: In the first two books especially. He admits that his definition of love is closer to a need to possess someone and have their whole attention than anything else.
  • Loving a Shadow: To Brooke. After genuinely falling for Marci, he realizes he wasn't really interested in Brooke-just some abstract ideal of innocence, purity, and beauty he projected onto her.
  • Meaningful Name: Lampshaded. He shares a name with not one, but two serial killers(John Wayne Gacy and John Wayne Glover)and a large blade used for chopping up meat. Also, his father's name is Sam. It's creepy coincidences like this that have him convinced the Powers That Be have it out for him.
  • Minored in Ass-Kicking: He's primarily a strategist, but when push comes to shove, he can do some damage.
  • Nightmare Fetishist: One of the first things we learn about him is that he loves serial killers.
  • Pretty Boy: His film incarnation, played by Max Records, is a sure example. Lit!John doesn't think much of himself, but he's hardly hurting for female attention. Elijah describes him as having Messy Hair(which he suspects was an intentional rebellion)and a slight frame.
  • Psycho for Hire: Subtly deconstructed in The Devil's Only Friend. While getting paid to hunt demons is convenient, he chafes under the restrictions that come with it.
  • Real Men Wear Pink: He cooks often and is a militant vegetarian.
  • Screw Destiny: His raison d'etre. He feels like fate wants him to be a serial killer, and that future even appeals to a part of him, but he refuses to let fate/destiny/his own baser instincts control him.
  • Serial-Killer Killer
  • Snark-to-Snark Combat: Getting in snark battles is one of his main ways of showing affection.
  • The Sociopath / Lack of Empathy: He's not great with people. Relating to them, understanding them, valuing them as individuals instead of tools.....
  • Stepford Snarker: Multiple characters point out his tendency to deflect serious emotion with jokes and sarcasm.
    • Tall, Dark, and Snarky: He seems to get a fair amount of female attention despite (or, perhaps, because of) his rather aloof personality and patchy social skills.
  • Tin Man: As with most Tin Man characters, he's less emotionless than he is repressed and bad at dealing with what slips through the cracks. Of course, that repression is for very good reasons.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: Apparently when he was seven, he dissected a live gopher, layer by layer. At least, it was alive when he started. Even in the present day, it can be a little disturbing to see a young teenager acting so cold and calculating.
  • What Is This Thing You Call "Love"?: Intimacy is....hard for him.
    Hulla: Do you love me, John?
    John: I don't know what that means.
  • Yandere: Another of the tendencies he tries hard to keep suppressed. He gets possessive fast, even getting angry seeing Brooke talk to someone else on the phone. Bear in mind, he hadn't even asked her out yet.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: He considers himself this in the first trilogy, since he considers himself a murderer for killing Crowley and Forman and knows that his homicidal urges are barely in check. From the town's perspective, however, he's a hero for standing up to multiple serial killers, saving Brooke's life from Forman and rescuing 4 imprisoned women from the torture house. This gets reversed in the second trilogy.


The emotionally inept matriarch of the Cleaver family.

  • Arbitrary Skepticism: She just wants to forget all about the events of the first book.
  • Badass Normal: She has her moments, most obviously when she positions herself between John and a rampaging demon.
  • Broken Bird: Almost as much as her son, and for the same reason, too. Her relationship with Sam clearly took a hit on her self-esteem and sense of identity, compounded by her constant conflict with John and Lauren. The third book confirms her growing despair, loneliness, and confusion.
  • Desperately Craves Affection: She loves her family, she really does, but is terrible at communicating it.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Convinces Nobody to possess her and retains control long enough to crawl into a burning car.
  • Parents as People: It's not initially obvious, as John hates her and sees her as a meddling, selfish shrew. As the series goes on, her character comes into focus-a deeply flawed, deeply loving woman trying her best in a shitty situation.
  • Mama Bear: She isn't great at defending herself, but god help you if you touch her children.
  • Not So Different: To John. They're both stubborn, want love but are so emotionally clumsy they're more likely to alienate people, and are highly principled but often cause more harm than good in their efforts. See Heroic Sacrifice in her tab and Screw Destiny in John's for how far they're willing to go for what they think is worth it.


John's older sister. She has a thorny relationship with April and has moved out, but continues to offer her support in his own altercations with their mother.

April's twin sister and the primary arbiter of the family.

Other Clayton Residents

     Brooke Watson 

The Cleavers' next-door neighbor who John develops a crush on in book one. His influence forces her between humans and demons in a burgeoning supernatural war.

     Kay Crowley 

A kindly old lady who lives across from John.

  • Happily Married: To Bill/Mkhai. Partially because she has no idea he's a demon.
  • Love Redeems: She singlehandedly stopped Crowley's killing without even knowing it.
    This was the angel who had tamed a demon.
  • Parental Substitute: Well, grand-parental substitute. She and Crowley are both very affectionate with John, and he returns it as best he can.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Despite being critical to the plot of I Am Not A Serial Killer, she completely disappears afterward.

     Dr. Ben/Grant Neblin 

John's patient, dedicated psychiatrist.

  • Innocent Bystander: He's only murdered because he came to find John after receiving a panicked phone call that indicated he might be unstable.
  • Killed Off for Real: By Crowley.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Pretty much his entire role in the series. He knows John professionally, but becomes involved in his hunt for Crowley when John uses his psych expertise and natural empathy to construct a more accurate profile. He gains a measure of trust from John, which leads to him calling Neblin when he's scared he's losing control. Concerned for his patient, he drives to John's neighborhood in the middle of the night, where he runs into a desperate Crowley....
  • Parental Substitute: He goes above and beyond to help John, insisting that he's worth it and running to protect him when the opportunity arises.
  • Series Continuity Error: In I Am Not A Serial Killer, his first name is Ben, but when John mentions him in The Devil's Only Friend, it's Grant. It's also Grant in The Film of the Book.
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are: One of the few people who has unswerving faith in John.
    "Listen to me, John." said Dr. Neblin, more serious and intense than I'd ever heard him. "Listen to me. Are you listening?"
    I squeezed my eyes shut and gritted my teeth. "It's not John anymore, it's Mr. Monster."
    "No, it's not," said Neblin. "It's John. It's not John Wayne, or Mr. Monster, or anybody else, it's John. You're in control. Now, are you listening to me?"
    I rocked back and forth. "Yes."
    "Good." He said. "Now pay very close attention: you are not a monster. You are not a demon. You are not a killer. You are a good person, with a strong will and a high moral code. Whatever you've done, you can get through it. We can make it right again."

     Marci Jensen 

A smart, popular girl who takes an interest in John in I Don't Want to Kill You.

  • The Ace: She's beautiful, smart, and everybody loves her. Guys fall in at a snap of her fingers, but she isn't lacking for girlfriends; apparently she's sweet and charming enough that jealousy is difficult. She has a loving family. She always looks great.
    • Broken Ace: Possibly. She's also lonely and resents the objectification she faces on a daily basis for being an attractive girl who knows it. It's also implied that she has Hidden Depths because she's embarrassed to show her messier side or feels her friends wouldn't understand.
  • Amateur Sleuth: Becomes one in the third book. She takes to it like a nascent serial killer to demon slaying, verging on Born Detective given her father's occupation.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Appears a few times as a Mauve Shirt before she steps up to plate in I Don't Want to Kill You.
  • Defiant to the End: We don't see her death, but John's narration makes it clear she wasn't about to go down without a fight. There was blood splattered all over the walls and her mirror is broken. Hulla was trying to frame this as a suicide.
  • Do You Want to Haggle?: Anyone with enough money can have nice clothes. She's the one who can find them for those prices.
  • Foil: To John. In contrast, she's openly emotional, extroverted, and loves a good party. She also can't stand gore. In comparison, she's dramatic, hides a lot about herself even from her friends, and desperately wants somebody to like her for her real self.
  • Good Bad Girl: A somewhat PG variant. It's unclear exactly how far most guys get with her; we just know that even her five-year-old sister is aware she has "lots of boyfriends".
  • Hidden Depths: For the first two books, she's mostly an object of tawdry teen lust from Max(and occasionally John). In book three, she's profiling a serial killer.
  • Ladykiller in Love: Rare Female Example. Marci has as many boyfriends as there are days in a year, but John is the first one she really seems to care about.
  • Light Feminine Dark Feminine: The loud, sensual Dark to Brooke's Light.
  • Lonely at the Top
  • The Lost Lenore: For John in The Devil's Only Friend.
  • Lovable Alpha Bitch: A "social dynamo" and a sweet, down-to-earth person when you get to know her.
  • Meaningful Name: Mercy.
  • Nightmare Fetishist: Not as much as John, but she's fascinated by her father's police work, to the point of knowing exactly how many bodies have been found in Clayton over the past year(it's nineteen).
  • Savvy Guy, Energetic Girl: The playful, social energetic girl to John's savvy guy.
  • Single Woman Seeks Good Man: She seeks out John partly because she knows that he killed Agent Forman and rescued the prisoners in the Torture House, partly because he's the only guy who doesn't stare at her tits.
  • Smarter Than You Look: Of the "beauty and brains" type. It's easy to dismiss her as a shallow slut who cares about little beyond the next party she's going to. As John discovers quickly, she's actually quite perceptive, considering angles for a psych profile that even he didn't think of. She does skip the first day of school, but it comes off less as a Book Dumb thing and more a bad mood. And possibly a chance to find out exactly how right she is about John.
  • Snark-to-Snark Combat: The first thing she says just to John is a sarcastic comment.
  • So Beautiful, It's a Curse: She's widely considered the hottest girl at school, and that means she is seen as a thing to fight over, wanted by her peers only for her body, and even sexually harassed by a teacher.
    "Listen, John, how should I put this?" She licked her lips. "Girls aren’t stupid, okay? We know when guys like us, and we usually know why: yes, we know we’re attractive, and yes, we notice when guys check us out. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had in just the last month where I have to look at a guy’s forehead the whole time because he’s staring at my boobs. And yes, I admit that sometimes I use them on purpose to get attention. I’ve done it with you. But you’re the first straight boy since sixth grade that it hasn’t worked on. The first one who doesn’t just stare." She shrugged, and looked out at the street. "You’re the first boy in years who’s more interested in talking to me than checking out my rack."
    "But I’m just-" How could I explain this? "I’m just following my rules. I’m trying to treat you like a person. With respect." The alternative is to treat you like the bodies in the mortuary, like a doll to play with, and I don’t dare allow myself to think like that.
    “With respect," she repeated. "One of the best things about you, John, is that you have no idea how rare that is."
  • The Social Expert: She understands human relationships on a level John, or for that matter most people.
  • Stepford Smiler: A somewhat milder case. She comes off as more sensitive than outright depressed, but her "I remember being that happy" comment about her younger sister hints that she's hiding the depth of her problems even from John, who she instantly clocks as "different".
  • The Watson: Functions as a sounding board for John initially.

The Withered

     As A Whole 

A group of formerly human entities that go by a lot of names-god, demon, Withered, Cursed. They all have different attitudes towards their existence, but one thing holds them together: they are defined by what they lack.

  • Deal with the Devil: Rack, Elijah, and Brooke all heavily imply that this is how they got their powers. The result is certainly Faustian for a lot of them. They got what they asked for, technically, but not necessarily what they wanted.
  • Horror Hunger: A less literal example, as most of them don't need to consume anything so much as use it, but Elijah's description of his "barely human" low point is highly reminiscent of this trope.
  • Our Demons Are Different: They're the "evil spirit/supernatural being" variant, having little to no connection to any formal religion(although it's possible they influenced a few). They were all human at one point, but conducted a ritual to become immortal, sacrificing something about themselves(emotions, health, a proper body)in the process. They all have some degree of supernormal power, but not all are offensive. Most of them look and act very human, but the price of their long lives is a parasitic existence-they all require a host or donor to survive. Lastly, even the 100% humanoid ones will dissolve after death, leaving only a small amount of black sludge colloquially called "soulstuff".
  • Was Once a Man: All of them. Verges on Tragic Monster with the more sympathetic ones, like Elijah and Hulla.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: Most of the Withered we've met have become weary of existence, although they aren't all actively self-destructive. Some, like Gidri, simply have a nihilism about them.

     Bill Crowley / Mkhai 

A sympathetic Withered who functions as the antagonist of the first book. He lacks an identity of his own, and body-snatched to stay alive, until he met Kay and stayed in one body to be with her.

  • Appendage Assimilation: His purpose for the stolen organs that would be simple trophies to your average human serial killer.
  • Anti-Villain: Type II.
  • Evil Old Folks: As John says at the end of book one, he's not exactly what you think of when you hear "brutal, opportunistic serial killer".
  • Love Makes You Evil: Somehow manages to be both this and Love Redeems. He turns his back on the Withered to live a human life with Kay, but panics and falls off the wagon when he realizes his body is deteriorating and he's going to die and leave her alone.

     Clark Forman / Kanta 

A hedonistic, sadist Withered who goes toe to toe with John in Mr. Monster. He lacks his own emotions and tortures women to feed off theirs.

     Nobody / Hulla 

Another body-snatching Withered; she gave up her original body because she hated it, but is never satisfied with her hosts and ends up killing them to find new ones. Falls in Mad Love with John after he threatens her in Mr. Monster and attempts to gain his affection by possessing Marci.

  • Clingy Jealous Girl: She's very insecure, to say the least.
  • Combat Tentacles: Her true form seems to be made up entirely of these.
  • The Eeyore: On a down-beat, she becomes inescapably negative, insecure, and gloomy.
  • Knight of Cerebus: You wouldn't think it possible in a series this dark but she pulls it off. By the time she's done She's killed John's mother and primary love interest and Mind Raped his secondary love interest, as well as making it impossible for him to ever go home again. The story goes from being about a snarky, mentally unbalanced Serial-Killer Killer in high school to about a snarky Heart Broken Badass drifter and his mentally unbalanced girlfriend.
  • Puppeteer Parasite
  • Mad Love: Near-literally, seeing as she's basically a walking, talking mood disorder. She's not just Not Good with Rejection; she doesn't even seem to know what it means. John tries to light her on fire and she still insists she loves him and wants to be with him forever.
  • Mood-Swinger
  • Vain Sorceress: A somewhat more sympathetic and realistic variation. Brooke says she gave up her body because she hated it, but ended up hating every new one she stole, because her body was never the problem. It was her mind.
  • Villainesses Want Heroes: As a self-hating demon, she loves John's passion for killing them. Unfortunately for her, he doesn't see the kinship.

     Mary Gardner / Agarin 

A Withered who gave up her health in exchange for immortal life. She works in a hospital, passing off her illnesses to patients.

     Elijah Sexton / Meshara 

A Withered with no memory of his own, he subsists on the recently dead, drinking the minds of bodies sent to the mortuary where he works.

  • A God I Am Not: Most other demons don't understand his affection for and identification with Puny Earthlings. He explains that he's been one by proxy so many times he can't help it, and prefers their company to the self-important, destructive Withered.
  • Pro-Human Transhuman: As a result of his very literal empathy for humans.
  • My Greatest Failure: Draining Merrill Evans' mind and leaving him with what is effectively a crippling case of Alzheimer's before he was even out of his forties.
  • Not So Different: A rare example of the hero pointing it out first. John quickly suspects he's Not Evil, Just Misunderstood and is drawn to him immediately.
  • Ridiculously Average Guy: Physically. When asked to describe him, all Brooke could come up with was "sad".
  • Touch of Death: Well, touch of coma and Empty Shell-ing. He takes down three other Withered unprepared, including draining one who was restraining him by pressing their cheeks together. We later see their remains being studied by a local hospital. It isn't pretty.


The demon king. He doesn't have a mouth or a heart, and subsists by stealing human hearts and then puppeting the corpses to speak.

  • A God Am I: To be fair, he's not totally wrong.
  • Body Horror: He doesn't bother with disguises like the other demons, and his true form is some of the best Nightmare Fuel in the series. From his nose to his sternum, he has just a gaping hole, showing roiling black soulstuff and dirty ribs.
  • Bond Villain Stupidity: A minor case. He has John, a known demon slayer, helpless and alone save Brooke, a vanilla human with no combat experience, and he wastes time trying to seduce him to the dark side, and then yelling and destroying things in a rage once John makes it clear that's not gonna happen.
    Rack: I have lived ten thousand years! I will not die here, like this, like nothing! I will have the death of a god!
    John: This is the other big difference between you and me. If I want something dead, I kill it. No pointless monologuing.
  • Hero Killer: He murders the entire strike team except John, who he was saving for later, and Elijah, who he couldn't get close to for fear of getting mind-sucked.
  • We Can Rule Together: Offers to turn John Withered, to be his ruthless warrior right hand.
  • Visionary Villain: He was the one who came up with the idea of eternal life in the first place, and the de facto leader of the Withered in the war against those hunting them.


     Linda Ostler 

The tough-as-nails leader of the secret government kill team devoted to tracking demons.

     Albert Potash 

A no-nonsense assassin who performs most of the kills Ostler orders.

     Diana Lucas 

A Friendly Sniper who works with John in book four. She's the only FBI agent he doesn't actively dislike.

  • Affirmative Action Legacy / Twofer Token Minority: She's black and a woman.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Rack pulls off one of her arms and leaves her to bleed out.
  • Friendly Sniper: If you met her on the street, you'd have no idea she was a capable enough to killer to be on a specialized supernatural hit squad.
  • The Heart: To the FBI team. She jokes often, likes animals, and is the only member of the team to protest John's cold pragmatism in the attack on Cody French. It borders on....
  • Token Good Teammate: Out of the Withered strike team, she's probably the most solidly good. Compared to a drug dealer, a rapist, a war criminal, and two borderline serial killers, her offenses are pretty minor. She was dishonorably discharged from the military for beating up another woman in a gang initiation.

     Dr. Martin Trujillo 

An FBI psychiatrist who is assigned to John and Brooke in The Devil's Only Friend.

  • Dark and Troubled Past: When Rack digs up dirt on the team, it's revealed that he is a statutory rapist. John is understandably angry that Ostler trusted him with Brooke.

     Dr. Nathan Gentry 

A self-important prodigy who has four degrees (two masters, two doctorates) at the age of twenty-seven. He betrays the team in favor of Rack.

  • Asshole Victim: Nobody felt bad when John stabs him to death.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Like John, it's out of necessity. He lacks the combat experience of the rest of the team, and when put into a dangerous situation, will compensate with sheer practicality. Case in point: he has no problem shooting Potash after starting a "calm down" speech to get him to lower his guard, and outright says there was no way he could have done it playing fair.
  • Evil Pays Better: His motivation for joining Rack. Turns out, a guy who's lived ten thousand years has a lot of money to spare luring proud intellectuals in.
  • Greed
  • Insufferable Genius
  • Meaningful Name: "gentry" refers to high-born socialites-Nathan values the finer things in life and often comes off as a modern version of an Upper-Class Twit despite his urban upbringing.
  • Non-Action Guy: When Ostler says civilians are their first priority in a crisis, he yells "I am a civilian!"
  • Self-Made Man
  • Sixth Ranger Traitor: He's the newest member of the team, and ends up helping Rack in exchange for money. A lot of money.
  • Walking Spoiler: In case you haven't noticed, it's difficult to talk about his true role without spilling a lot.

     Kelly Ishida 

The FBI's police liaison. She worked homicide for six years and is a bit twitchy as a result.


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