REVIEW by Jena: The Devil’s Only Friend (John Cleaver #4) by Dan Wells (@thedanwells)

22665330John Wayne Cleaver hunts demons: they’ve killed his neighbors, his family, and the girl he loves, but in the end he’s always won. Now he works for a secret government kill team, using his gift to hunt and kill as many monsters as he can . . .

. . . but the monsters have noticed, and the quiet game of cat and mouse is about to erupt into a full scale supernatural war.

John doesn’t want the life he’s stuck with. He doesn’t want the FBI bossing him around, he doesn’t want his only friend imprisoned in a mental ward, and he doesn’t want to face the terrifying cannibal who calls himself The Hunter. John doesn’t want to kill people. But as the song says, you can’t always get what you want. John has learned that the hard way; his clothes have the stains to prove it.

When John again faces evil, he’ll know what he has to do.

The Devil’s Only Friend is the first book in a brand-new John Wayne Cleaver trilogy by New York Times bestselling author Dan Wells.


Also Included In This Post

  • Guest Blog from Author Dan Wells!


The Devil’s Only Friend
by Dan Wells

John Cleaver #4 (First in a New John Wayne Cleaver Trilogy)

Urban Fantasy

Tor Books

Publication Date:
June 16, 2015


I’m a few days late in getting this review live thanks to life getting in the way, but I promise you, the delay has nothing at all to do with the book as it’s one of my absolute favorite reads in recent years.

The Devil’s Only Friend was my first time reading anything by Dan Wells and I was hooked from the very first page:

I’m good now. I promise.

My name is John Wayne Cleaver and I was born in a little town in the middle of nowhere called Clayton. You know those little towns on the side of the road, the ones where you drive through and you don’t notice them, or maybe you stop for gas and think, “what a dump, who would ever live here?” Well, I did, for sixteen years. And I wish I could say that it was boring, and that nothing ever happened, and that we lived in a sleepy haze of naive innocence far from the troubles of the modern world, but I can’t . I killed people. Not as many as other people, I’ll grant you, but that’s not much consolation, is it? If someone sat next to you on a bus, held out his hand and said, “Hi, I’m John, I’ve only killed a couple of people,” that wouldn’t exactly put your mind at ease. But yes, I’ve killed, and some of them were demons, true, but some of them were people. That I didn’t kill the people personally is beside the point; they are dead because of me. That changes you. You start to look at things differently, at lives and their fragility. It’s like we’re all Humpty Dumpty, held together by a tiny, cracking shell, perched up on a wall like it’s no big deal. We think we’re invincible, and then one little crack, and boom, out comes more blood and guts and screams than you’d ever thought could be inside a single body. And when that blood goes, everything else goes with it— breath, thought, movement. Existence. One minute you’re alive and then suddenly you’re not.

I used to wonder if it went somewhere. If the thing that used to be your “life” actually left your body and physically went somewhere else.  Conservation of matter and energy and all that. But I’ve seen death, and life doesn’t go anywhere, and I think that’s because life doesn’t exist, not really. Life isn’t a thing, it’s a condition; we switch it on and we switch it off. For all we talk about taking a life, there’s nothing there to take. But I’m good now. I promise.

I’ve killed, and whatever bloodlust I used to have is sated . I wake up in the morning and I go to my tutor and I go to my counseling and I go to my job with the FBI, helping to track down other killers, and I say the right things and I do the right things and nobody’s afraid of me and everything is good. I watch travel shows. I cook. I do logic puzzles to keep myself occupied. And then sometimes at night I go to the butcher shop and I buy the biggest roast they have and I bring it home and I cover the room in plastic and I hack the meat to pieces with a kitchen knife, slashing and ripping and chopping and grunting until there’s nothing left but scraps. Then I roll up the plastic, meat and blood and all, and I throw it away and everything is clean and calm again.

Because I’m good now.

I promise.

GO AHEAD!  Just try to tell me you’re not already hooked!  Good, right??!?!?  I opened up the review copy of The Devil’s Only Friend, read that first page, and that was it.  I was sucked in.

Here’s another great getting-to-know-you moment with John:

There wasn’t any real trick to it— I planned their deaths the same way I planned my teammates’. Spend time with them, figure out their weak spots, and then push on those weak spots until they die. I make friends with them, and then I kill them.

Being my friend is not, statistically speaking, very safe.

I fell in love with this character instantly.  John Cleaver is a perfect example of the Bad Good Guy or the Good Bad Guy.  There is nothing better than a writer who can take a character who, by conventional societal standards, should be locked up in a cage like Hannibal Lecter and bring you inside their head and show you enough reason for you to end up cheering the character on.  I don’t think John behaves himself because he wants to.  He behaves himself because he knows they will put him down like a lame horse if he crosses the line into full-on crazy.

As with any urban fantasy, this book is written in a conversational tone instead of over the audience’s head.  This results in a super-fast paced read.  Now, I admit, I peeked at a few other reviews before writing mine (I wanted to see how others got around some of the spoilers only to find that they didn’t even bother trying….no help) and one thing I saw was someone complain about the book being too slow at the beginning.  Well, to you, unnamed reviewer, I completely disagree.  As soon as I started reading, I started telling people about the book.  If anything, I was amazed at how quickly the action picks up and takes off.  Unnamed reviewer, I think you may have been reading a different book….

Uses the Fibonacci sequence to manage his issues.  If you’re not familiar, this is a string of numbers in which the next number is the sum of the two preceding it.  0 1 1 2 3 5 8 13 21 34 55 89 and so on…. Instead of just counting to 10, he uses a sequence that requires brain work.  It’s his way of not only calming himself down, but also a way to bring his focus back in line.  I didn’t read the books prior to The Devil’s Only Friend, so, I don’t know what led to him using the sequence to calm his urges, but I saw it an instantly smiled (I’m a nerd…).  For someone with a metal disorder, such as….oh, I don’t know….fantasizing about violent murder, this is a genius way to reign in focus.  Well done, Mr. Wells.  Well done.

On a technical front, the writing is tight.  Nothing feels unnecessary or forced.  The flow of the story is perfectly tuned.  The rehashing of what you need to know from the previous books is conversationally brought into the story making the book work as a standalone.  When the publisher told me this was the fourth book for the character, I was a little apprehensive.  However, I assure you all, if this is where you want to pick up, you certainly can and I don’t feel there is anything you’d get hung up on due to lack of information.

Another thing I loved is this is urban fantasy written by a guy!  The reason this excites me so much is the content.  Dont get me wrong, I write paranormal romance myself, but I love love LOVE true urban fantasy, and finding true urban fantasy is getting harder and harder.  Lately, a lot of people believe the two genres seem to have become synonymous with one another, and they’re not.  Just because a book is urban fantasy does not mean it’s also paranormal romance, and vice versa.  The thing I adore about male UF writers is they really get that.  The focus of this book has nothing at all to do with romantic tension and the next sex scene.  It’s all about the characters and an action-packed story.  I really love that.  I miss “old school” urban fantasy and wish there was a lot more of it on the market.

Overall, this was an excellent read and I am officially a fan.  I will be going back to read the first three books because I enjoyed this one so much.  I am very curious to see the story of how John ended up where this one picked up.  Mr. Wells has landed himself a new fan.


Guest Post by Dan Wells

Dan WellsHow many people did Luke Skywalker kill when he blew up the Death Star?

We don’t think about that very often. The Death Star was EVIL, right? Or at least it was used for evil purposes. Or at least it was full of evil people. But…was every person on that station evil? Did every last one of them deserve to die? Or is it enough to say that their deaths, however tragic, were worth it in order to prevent the loss of even more life when the Death Star blew up more planets?

Action movies are easy, and triumphant heroism always looks awesome on the surface. Morality, on the other hand, is hard. Personally, I’m capable of justifying the thousands (or maybe even tens of thousands) of deaths on the Death Star, compared to the billions of lives saved by its destruction. They were all there when they blew up Alderaan; some of them helped directly, and the rest were at least complicit in it. It was “good” to destroy the Death Star and take that kind of power away from the kind of people who had already demonstrated a willingness, if not to use it, at least to look the other way when it gets used. But. It has long bothered me that we never see any emotional repercussions, from Luke or anyone else, about the guilt of having ended so many lives. Luke fires the torpedoes, the Death Star blows up, and sure we get our moment of cheering–we just saved a ton of lives–but then where’s the sadness? Where’s the psychological fallout of realizing that you just blew up not only a space station but the tens of thousands of people living on it?

My new book, The Devil’s Only Friend, is the first of a new trilogy about my character John Cleaver, a teenage sociopath who fights monsters. It is the fourth book he stars in, and brings his total “kill count” up to, well, four. Three of those four are supernatural predators dedicated to the destruction of the human race. And yet mass-murdering Luke is an unequivocal hero, and John is a dangerous criminal. I’m not complaining about this–far from it. I did it on purpose. I’m fascinated by the math of morality, by the weird corner cases, by the fuzzy line that makes one death justifiable and another reprehensible. And I’m fascinated by the emotional aftermath that often makes it both at the same time.

As I write this essay it is June 18, early in the morning, and the news about the Charleston church shooting is filling the airwaves and the Internet. My mind is filled with alternate scenarios–what if someone had seen the shooter running from the scene, and shot him? Would that be “good?” What if someone in the church had had a gun, and shot him halfway through? What if someone had known what he was going to do, and there was no time to call the police, and the only way to stop him was to shoot him before he’d even done it…would that be “good?” Sometimes taking a life is heinous and unforgivable, and sometimes it is the only moral choice you can make.

All of my books, to some degree or another, are about that fuzzy line. About the cases where a character’s–or a society’s–circumstances become so extreme that morality warps around it. They’re about the cases where making that corner case decision can save your life and psychologically ruin it, all at the same time.

Luke Skywalker kills tens of thousands of people, and he’s fine. John Cleaver kills one, and spends an entire book trying to justify it, and an entire series paying for it.


About Dan Wells

Dan Wells is a thriller and science fiction writer. Born in Utah, he spent his early years reading and writing. He is he author of the Partials series (Partials, Isolation, Fragments, and Ruins), the John Cleaver series (I Am Not a Serial Killer, Mr. Monster, and I Don’t Want To Kill You), and a few others (The Hollow City, A Night of Blacker Darkness, etc). He was a Campbell nomine for best new writer, and has won a Hugo award for his work on the podcast Writing Excuses; the podcast is also a multiple winner of the Parsec Award.

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  1. […] Click here to read Jena’s review of The Devil’s Only Friend! […]

  2. My kind of novel.

    1. It’s sooooo gooooooood!!!! I cant stress it enough. Excellent UF novel!

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