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Literature / I Don't Want to Kill You

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The final book in the first "John Cleaver" trilogy by Dan Wells, following I Am Not a Serial Killer and Mr. Monster. A second trilogy is on the way, starting with a novella and Interquel, Next of Kin, serving as a bridge between the first and second trilogies, and the first book in the new series being The Devil's Only Friend.

John Wayne Cleaver is still not a serial killer, because to be a serial killer you have to kill people. Of course, his first action after successfully defeating Agent Forman was to use his cell phone to contact one of his associates and announce that he plans to kill her - even though he has no idea what she might be able to do to him, or force him to do to his family...


What's more, he wasn't expecting Nobody to come with backup.

This book has examples of:

  • And the Adventure Continues: The melancholy variant.
    Her voice was calm and even, her gaze unflinching. "I’m saying we have to stop them," she said. "There’s too many, and these three are nothing compared to what else is out there. We have to find them, and we have to stop them."
    "But I lost Forman’s phone," I said. "That was our only link. That was the only way we could find them, and track them, and—"
    "I don’t think you understand," said Brooke. "We don’t need Forman’s phone. I told you, I remember everything."
    I stood silently, processing her words and their ramifications. Everything. I nodded. "Okay. Now try to rest; it’s over for now."
    She laid back in the bed, staring at the ceiling. "No, John. It will never be over."
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  • Anguished Declaration of Love: John for both Marci and his mother in the last chapter, although the former is more straightforward of a case.
  • Armor-Piercing Slap: Mrs. Cleaver to John, evoking a rare Stunned Silence from him.
  • Betty and Veronica: Brooke, a quiet blonde literal Girl Next Door who wants to forget everything that happened with Forman vs. Marci, a dark-headed Lovable Alpha Bitch who helps John profile the Handyman.
  • Big Damn Heroes: April performs one as John is losing the fight with Nobody.
  • Black Comedy: John "stalking" Mrs. Andelin's son to get information out of her.
    I lowered my voice a bit. "I have a key to your house." That wasn't true, but it sounded great on the phone.
  • Body Surf: Nobody's MO.
  • Bound and Gagged: John has a brief moment of imagining Marci this way when she says she's "all tied up".
  • Call-Back: After the Armor-Piercing Slap above, John grabs the same kitchen knife he threatened April with in I Am Not A Serial Killer and sets it down in front of her.
    John: Remember this the next time you doubt me. Of the two of us, I'm the one who held back when a fight turned violent.
    • During an earlier argument, she tells him to talk to the police instead of doing it all himself, John replies that last time he trusted the FBI, he ended up drinking his own urine in a pit in a murder house. Not doing that again.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The Handyman arrives at the same time as a chain of apparent suicides.
  • Combat Tentacles: Nobody's true form seems to be made up solely of these.
  • Continuity Nod: John mentions the burned-out warehouse past the town border.
  • Dance of Romance: John experiences a rare moment of human connection dancing with Marci. When considering what actions of hers could actually have been Nobody's, he thinks of this before he thinks of kissing her.
  • A Death in the Limelight: Marci. She's a background character or the first two books, then gains importance here as the most serious relationship we've seen John have outside his family. Bye bye.
  • Demonic Possession: John and Father Erikson discuss this as a possibility, although it's only partly accurate.
  • Despite the Plan: Lampshaded.
    Marci: Does all usually go well?
    John: It never has before.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Nobody pinning John to the ground and attempting to literally force herself inside him, ignoring his clear shock and disgust when she says she loves him.
  • Downer Ending: To the point that it's surprising that this was once meant to end John's story permanently. Brooke is alive, but she's badly traumatized, Agent Ostler's comments imply that most of the deaths could have been avoided if John had let her help, and he discovers he still has a heart just in time to lose his first love and then his mother, to someone he brought into town. Ouch.
  • Dude, She's Like, in a Coma!: An unusually sweet and dark variation in the last chapter. Sweet because it's a thoroughly chaste kiss, and one of the few times in the series, much less in this book, when John shows or accepts physical affection. Dark because Marci isn't in a coma. She's dead.
  • Dumb Blonde, Brainy Brunette: Double Subverted. Brooke (blonde) is generally described as more of the smart and sensitive loner archetype as well as being described as tall and willowy. Marci (brunette) is set up as a Lovable Alpha Bitch and is described as more of a voluptuous bombshell. In this book we get a better look at Marci and learn that she is, if anything, more intelligent than Brooke and certainly more empathic and insightful.
  • Driven to Suicide: A rash of teen suicides begins as the book does, frustrating John, who doesn't understand what the point of saving people is if they're just going to undo it. Turns out he had nothing to worry about; his actions did matter. Because the demon he called into town killed them.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Assuming that we can qualify John as bad, this trope applies. Although he doesn't actually realize how much until after she dies.
  • First Girl Wins: Zigzagged. At first glance the novel appears to play the trope straight, although in this case "wins" doesn't mean "gets the guy" so much as "lives out the trilogy", but in terms of who is John's real love interest this is averted; it's Marci, his second girlfriend, that really earns his love. However, John never stops focusing on Brooke even when she's dating other guys and he's happy with his own new girlfriend, and Nobody observes that he's had experiences with Brooke that "Marci never had" with him.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Mrs. Cleaver, getting rid of Nobody for good, but primarily to save John.
  • Hollywood Silencer: Played straight with The Handyman's gun where John doesn't even know it's being fired until holes appear in the car trunk.
  • I Love the Dead: John trolling Lauren about why their mother won't let him help embalm the teen suicides.
    John: Mom's not keeping me out because it's a dead friend, she's keeping me out because it's a dead sixteen-year-old girl with no clothes on.
    Lauren: And that's officially the creepiest thing you've ever said. Seriously-yuck.
    John: I've got a live girlfriend, what do I need dead ones for?
    Lauren: I'm not listening!
  • In Love with Your Carnage: Nobody says she's been in love with John since he called her to say he was going to kill her.
  • Internal Monologuing Is A Free Action: Throughout the series, but particularly in this book, John is very prone to pausing in the middle of a conversation and monologuing for paragraphs before returning to the conversation. He is, once, called on it when someone on the phone asks him why he's being so quiet.
  • Like You Would Really Do It: Invoked by Nobody. John wouldn't really kill Brooke's body simply in order to kill Nobody, too would he? Yes, yes, he would.
  • Mama Bear: Mrs. Cleaver jacks it up a notch in this book.
  • Meaningful Name: Nobody. She feels constantly inadequate and either can't survive on her own or hates herself enough that she rarely tries.
  • Nausea Fuel: In-Universe. Marci could have gone her whole life without seeing those crime scene photos.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: A rare case in which the hero notes it instead of the villain. When facing off against the Handyman, John realizes exactly what it is he's looking at. A human sociopath, traumatized by and ashamed of his own sins, trying desperately to make up for them with what he thinks is right.
  • Police Are Useless: Averted. John gets quite a lot of information out of Marci's father. Agent Ostler turns out to be trying to hunt down Nobody, too; and if John had known she was trustworthy quite a bit of death could have been averted.
  • Red Herring
    • For the characters as well as the readers. When the Handyman arrives in Clayton John assumes he must be the demon and spends most of the book trying to profile him based on that assumption.
    • Similarly, the revelation that the Handyman mutilated the eyes of his most recent victim right after John had a discussion about another serial killer with a fixation on eyes with Marci and her dad.
    • The phone calls that the suicide victims spam out to the next target the night before their suicide suggest a method of transmission, but are actually Nobody trying to reach out in her loneliness.
  • Reluctant Psycho: John will get worse before he gets better...
  • Sacrificial Lion: Marci and Mrs. Cleaver.
  • So Happy Together: John and Marci. John experiences a rare moment of human connection dancing with her, and sits, brooding in his car, wondering what it means for him/them. The next time they speak, she hesitantly tells him she loves him. Just in time to die horribly.
  • Stalker with a Crush: John hasn't entirely gotten over this tendency.
    Brooke’s house was just two doors down from mine, a two-story tract home that followed the same basic layout as every other house in the neighbourhood – except ours, of course, which was just an apartment over the mortuary. I sat in my car, parked innocuously on the curb, and catalogued Brooke’s house in my head: there was the front porch, with the door right in the center; this led back into a long hallway that stretched to the rear of the house. On the left was the living room, small but cozy, with a large picture window, and on the right was a dining room that turned into a kitchen at the back; this had a large sliding glass door that led out to their backyard. The back corner on the left side was a bathroom and a large pantry.
    The first floor I didn’t know nearly as well, having never been up there, but I’d been in the Crowleys’ house so I could guess where everything was. The staircase led up to a master bedroom – presumably her parents – at the top on the front right corner. I could see the windows from my seat in the car: white lace curtains and a couple of cutesy knick-knacks. Across the hall was a smaller bedroom which was probably her brother Ethan’s. The back left corner was Brooke’s room, with a wide view of the woods beyond. This I knew for certain, because I used to sit in the darkness of that wood and watch her through the uncurtained window. But I was better than that now.
    Well, obviously not that much better.
    • Nobody as well. For John.
  • Sword over Head: John v. The Handyman. Or, should we say, gun to head.
  • Taking You with Me: April v. Nobody.
  • Talking to the Dead: John to Marci at the end.
  • Talking the Monster to Death: John successfully convinces the Handyman, who has him at gunpoint, to shoot himself instead.
  • Villainesses Want Heroes: As a self-hating demon, Nobody finds John's passion for killing her kind very attractive.