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Literature / I Am Not a Serial Killer

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"If you met me on the street you'd never guess how much I wanted to kill you."

Hello, my name is John Wayne Cleaver and I am not a serial killer. However, I find serial killers to be fascinating. And I also have some similarities to serial killers. Like the fact that I share all three traits of the Macdonald Triad like 95% of all other serial killers. I'm also fascinated by death and corpses, but I'm a skilled mortician that works in the town mortuary, so what did you expect? I'm also fifteen years old, and I've been diagnosed as a sociopath. And I'm a loner that has a tough time making friends. It almost seems as if fate has decided that I should become a serial killer. Well Screw Destiny, I am not a serial killer!

The first trilogy:

The second trilogy


  • Next of Kin - A novella serving as a lead-in to the second trilogy

A film adaptation, starring Max Records as John and Christopher Lloyd as Mr. Crowley was released on August 26, 2016.

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    Tropes throughout the series 
  • Badass Normal: John.
  • Cassandra Truth: John thinks that no one would believe him if he told people the truth that people are being killed by demons, and spends most of his time trying to deal with things alone.
  • Deadpan Snarker: So very much. John is deadpan pretty much all the time anyway, and he has an extremely developed sense of humor. Expect him to say something like this at least once every page.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: Each book typically ends with John killing one (if not more) Humanoid Abomination.
  • Humanoid Abomination: Most of the demons are this.
  • I'm Melting!: Happens when the demons die.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: John is responsible for quite a few deaths of innocent people throughout the series.
    • At the end of the second novel, he explicitly calls and taunts a demon, causing it to come to his town and kill people.
    • In the fifth novel, there is a demon that acts out people's intentions. Coupled with John's occasional homicidal impulses, well, you can guess the rest.
  • No Body Left Behind: See I'm Melting! above. This is why it is very difficult to prove that demons exist.
  • Reluctant Psycho: John himself.
  • Serial-Killer Killer: The titular character, after he kills a serial-killing demon.
  • Sociopathic Hero: John is a diagnosed sociopath.
  • This Is My Story: Most first-person stories carry this trope. It's inevitable really. See the book's blurb above for example.
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: John is much more mature than a typical high schooler.
  • Weaksauce Weakness: Most of the demons have one, allowing John to kill them without too much trouble. The trick is being able to figure out these weakness, which John is really good at.
    • In the first novel, the demon ("Mr. Crowley") cannot function without critical body parts such as heart, liver or lungs. When these parts become worn out (which happens at a very fast pace, presumably because it is assuming the identity of an old man) and not replaced in time, the demon becomes weak and dies.
    • In the second novel, the demon mirrors emotions of people around it. When its victims become extremely scared, it also becomes too scared to do anything and is practically helpless. It is also as vulnerable to injuries like a normal human.
    Tropes in the first book 
  • Adults Are Useless: Played straight in that John is the only one to discover who the serial killer is, averted in that the psychologist is shown to be somewhat helpful. Double Subverted when this instinct to try to help winds up getting Dr. Neblin killed.
  • Appendage Assimilation: The demon is capable of using the victim's body parts to replace its own parts when they become worn out.
  • Ascended Demon: John tries to be good. Really.
    • More literal in the case of the actual demon, who gave up being one in order to remain with his wife and only went back to killing because his body was giving out on him.
  • Ax-Crazy: Specifically averted. John makes a point of explaining that a random murder is different from a serial killing. Although this is ultimately played with, considering that his murderous urges try to make him murder everyone he sees.
  • Bring My Brown Pants: John is a bed wetter, and says he also loses control of his bladder in times of stress. Like when he sees a demon kill a person.
  • Darker and Edgier: Compared to Dexter if you can believe it. Most of the comedy in Dexter is replaced by tragedy, Squick, Psychological Horror and Paranoia Fuel while what comedy remains is limited to snark and comedy so black no photons are capable of escaping.
  • Did You Think I Can't Feel?: John gives a speech like this to his mother, accusing her of ignoring his feelings because she thinks of him as a sociopath.
  • Disappeared Dad: John's father.
  • Enemy Within: John's dark side, the side that wishes to kill everyone. John's rules are there to hide this, but it's always there...
  • Even Evil Has Standards: He stalks, he maims, but patting dogs? Never. (To clarify, John recognizes animal abuse as a trait of sociopathy. Not wanting to hurt any animals, he avoids contact with them.)
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: An interesting variant shows up in the first book, when John is initially unable to figure out why the demon has started taking individual organs from its kills and using them to patch up its "Mr. Crowley" body, rather than killing one person and taking their shape to get a fresh body that would last it decades. It isn't until after a talk with Dr. Neblin that John realizes that the demon is in love with its wife, and doesn't want to give up its current form because that would mean giving up her. John notes the irony that a literal demon understands love better than he.
  • Evil Feels Good: When John snaps and threatens his mother with a kitchen knife. He notes that seeing her terror is the first time in his life he has felt a genuine emotional connection with another human being, and his description of the experience is practically orgasmic.
  • The Film of the Book: Released in 2016.
  • For the Evulz: John considers this the defining trait of a serial killer as opposed to a simple murderer. Anyone can kill if the victim's death benefits them in some way, but a serial killer kills solely because they want to kill.
  • Freak Out
  • Genre Shift: The genre shifts from a psychological character study to a horror/scifi/fantasy thriller midway through the story when it is revealed that the local serial killer John is obsessing over is actually a demon who harvest human body parts.
    • Though the shift is explicitly foreshadowed when in the first quarter of the book, John casually says to the reader that his sociopathy makes him a demon but NOT like the one he fought.
  • Godzilla Threshold: John very deliberately deconstructs the inhibitions he'd set up to keep himself from become a serial killer, knowing that he very possibly will not be able to rebuild them, because he believes it's the only way to take down the Clayton Killer.
  • Gray-and-Gray Morality Or Black-and-Gray Morality: A diagnosed sociopath with murderous urges and no capacity for empathy who is nevertheless determined to kill only bad guys, vs a body-snatching demon that is forced to kill humans in order to survive while remaining fully capable of love and other human emotions.
  • Heroic Self-Deprecation: To such a degree that it borders on Unreliable Narrator. For example John has much better social skills than he claims in the narration.
  • Heroic Willpower: John, being the protagonist of our story, has of course this virtue. No matter how much he wants to kill people, his massive will to be good is just too strong. Specifically when he's trying not to stab his own mother.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: John does this to try and stop Bill Crowley from continuing to kill.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: When trying to kill a demon, some things must be done, and sacrifices - John abandoning his rules in order to defeat Crowley - must be made...
  • Kill and Replace: The demon's old M.O. After falling in love, it stops taking new identity.
  • Loners Are Freaks: John tries desperately to avert this so he befriends the other loner in the school, Max Bowen. Note that he's not trying to avoid being a freak, he knows that he's a freak and is trying to hide it by avoiding being a loner.
  • Love Redeems: This is what happened to the demon. After falling in love as "Mr. Crowley", he remains in this identity for decades to be with the woman he loves, though he is forced to go back to killing.
  • The Main Characters Do Everything: Although the author does give a reason, it's very convenient that John is capable of performing his own autopsies and such. Being obsessed with serial killers, he is proficient at "profiling" a serial killer when one eventually shows up.
  • Meaningful Name: Subverted. John Wayne Gacy was a famous serial killer, and you might think John Wayne Cleaver is named after him - but you'd be wrong. He's actually named after John Wayne the Western actor, just as the actual serial killer was.
    • Whether this one was intended or not, there was also an Australian serial killer named John Wayne Glover, which ends up as a much closer phonetic match to Cleaver.
    • Crowley's name might also be an allusion to the notorious Aleister Crowley, who claimed to have summoned demons.
  • Moment Killer: It was John's fault really (threatening people with a violent death won't win you any friends); this scene also includes an example of How Much Did You Hear?. Also an example of...
  • Moral Event Horizon: John's internal narration explains that, in a sense, he doesn't have one of these: where normal people would intuitively know that petting an animal is acceptable and cutting it open is not, John had to work that out by observation. As a result, he lives by a set of self-imposed rules designed to ensure he never gets anywhere close to the event horizon, because if he did he wouldn't be able to tell until he'd already crossed it.
  • Mugging the Monster:
    • Rob Anders to John at the dance.
    • Soon after, a more literal example in the drifter trying to Back Stab Mr. Crowley.
  • Nightmare Fuel Station Attendant: John
  • Nothing Exciting Ever Happens Here: The first murder is specifically said by the main character to be the most exciting thing he's ever seen happen in Clayton County.
  • Parental Substitute: John's therapist, Ben Neblin, kinda acts as a replacement for John's absent father. So does Mr. Crowley. Too bad the latter is also a demon.
  • Police Are Useless: Played straight but justified, John does tell the police but it doesn't turn out well.
  • Psychological Horror
  • Stalker with a Crush: John stalks Brooke Watson for most of the book.
    • Though it should be noted that he realizes this isn't love or anything resembling it, but rather an irresistible compulsion that he tries desperately to overcome, making this an aversion of Stalking Is Love.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: The title.
  • Tap on the Head: Averted in the first book. John has to strike Crowley's wife several times on the head with a blunt object to get them to stop moving. He mentions that it's always easier in the movies.
  • This Is Your Brain on Evil
  • The Watson: John's 'friend' Max is really only there to fill in the audience by asking stupid questions.
  • Will They or Won't They?: Brooke clearly likes John, and John clearly likes her. Hence the stalking.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: The Demon.
  • You Are Grounded!: John's mother doesn't allow him to participate in embalming any more bodies after John gets too excited examining the body of the second victim of the Clayton Killer