Dan Wells is one of the creators of the Writing Excuses podcast, and if you don't listen to that you definitely have to start. I would have never heard of him if not for that podcast, I admit it. (Then again, who knows?) But hey, the important thing is that I have heard of him, yes?
John Cleaver is a serial killer. Except not, because he has yet to kill anyone. He works at his family's mortuary, which is probably not the best place for a budding Ted Bundy. But he has rules, and those rules keep him in check and keep everyone around him safe. But then bodies start turning up near his hometown, all similar, and he uses his obsession with killers and bodies and uses it to find and catch the murderer.
This isn't your typical YA novel, and as a matter of fact these books were marketed as adult books in the US. John Cleaver is a sociopath, so he can't relate to the other people around him. He doesn't understand love or friendship, and the urges he has to hurt things doesn't make it any better. But he is highly logical, and it is fascinating to watch him work through the mystery. I thought he was very believable as a teen, even though he is very troubled. Everyone around him treats him like a teen, and he can only used methods that would be at a teen's disposal.
The first half of the first book was slow. It was enjoyable while I was reading it, but then I would put it down and not pick it up for another month. I stuck with it because I liked the podcast, and a little before the halfway point everything zips together and you're hooked till the end. The second and third books don't suffer from this at all, and I flew through each of those in a couple of nights.
By the time I had finished the first one the second was already out, and the last came out about two months later, so I read them all in quick succession. (I also have the UK version of IANASK that I preordered from Book Depository, but the US versions of the other two.) And let me tell you, they get freaky. And fast. I mean, the story is narrated from a sixteen year old that has absolutely no problem with taking another human's life. Add in demons who are using the entire town to toy with John, and you have no idea who is bad or good or lost or just an evil person, sans brimstone. (Oh yeah, these books have demons in them. You should know that going in. But they are freakier because of that.)
I was scared shitless by the second book. I bawled my eyes out in the third book. I should say, bawled my eyes out for three chapters straight. I even wrote him an e-mail that basically confessed my love to him and said anyone who could throw me into emotional swings like that has me as a fan for life, which I had never done before and still have yet to do again. (He didn't write back.) The trilogy ends with a delightfully murky ending that keeps you scared and also makes you hope Mr. Wells will be writing a spin-off series. And did I mention they're funny?
This is a great series for the reader who's starting to grow out of teen novels, or the reader who's starting to get into sci-fi and fantasy but is a bit overwhelmed where to start. Also, a great series for teen boys, which are so hard to find these days. Even though these books are about a wannabe serial killer, they don't glorify death in any way, as a matter of fact they do just the opposite. John has a surprisingly mature view on morals and he knows every step of the way that what he is doing is wrong, but he can't stop it and that upsets him. So all you parents out there can rest easy giving these to your kids. As a matter of fact, I'd be more upset if they read The Hunger Games than these books. John is fighting for Life, whereas HG are playing with it.
Dan Wells has more books, including a post-apocalyptic/dystopian YA called Partials (out Feb 28, 2012) and also The Hollow City, a schizophrenia novel, out July 3, 2012. I can't forget A Night of Blacker Darkness, available now in e-book, which I will forever know as The Vampire Bunny Book.