Publication Date: April 3, 2012
What if the world's worst serial killer...was your dad?
Jasper (Jazz) Dent is a likable teenager. A charmer, one might say.
But he's also the son of the world's most infamous serial killer, and for Dear Old Dad, Take Your Son to Work Day was year-round. Jazz has witnessed crime scenes the way cops wish they could--from the criminal's point of view.
And now bodies are piling up in Lobo's Nod.
In an effort to clear his name, Jazz joins the police in a hunt for a new serial killer. But Jazz has a secret--could he be more like his father than anyone knows?
(Highlight to view spoilers)
I was completely blindsided by how much I love Barry Lyga's I Hunt Killers. I had an inkling that it would be good after reading positive reviews on The Midnight Garden and The Readventurer, but there was no way for me to know just how good. I Hunt Killers is the type of book that makes me wish I were more articulate, that I could communicate with the written word more effectively than I can.
I Hunt Killers captures the reader quickly; less than five pages in and I was hooked. It is a fast paced read, one with a complex plot, plenty of action and adventure. Yet, I would still call it a character driven novel, for it is Lyga's characters that make this story. Lyga is also a master with voice and tone. For a novel with such gritty, graphic, candid depictions of violence, it is surprisingly devoid of gratuitous shock value. It is darkly humorous and lacking in pretensions, but still manages to examine some serious issues.
I love that I Hunt Killers is written from Jazz's point of view in a way that actually reads like a teenage boy, but is assessable to a female reader. His feelings of alienation and isolation, his questioning of his values and sense of place in the world, are universally relatable. It is part of the human experience to manipulate, to be selfish, to feel isolated, to wish someone away, to desire someone or something unattainable. Where the line between normal and sociopath lies, then, is an interesting question. Many of us do things that Jazz worries about; but, because of his upbringing, Jazz is hyper-aware of when he does things that brush that line. He has a bit more excuse than the average teenager to feel so angsty. This is where I feel the genius of Lyga's writing lies: "normal" is a spectrum, and the spectrum of Jazz's behavior is best shown in his relationships with the other characters.
Jazz is at his most human with Howie. I love the way this friendship, this unconditional love between two teenage boys, is expressed. (Spoiler) Howie having tattoos on Jazz's body is one of the most touching things I think I have ever read. That alone should convince Jazz of his humanity. (End Spoiler) I also love his relationship with Connie. She is smart, independent, and completely uninterested in taking his crap. I love that she calls Jazz out when he starts taking himself too seriously, that she won't allow him to wallow. She forces him to face his self-indulgences and get over himself. I also love that Lyga has shown such a healthy and happy interracial relationship (without glossing over the external problems such a couple might face.) It is with Connie and Howie that we see Jazz at his most human--see him as he may one day be.
With Melissa, G. William, and his teachers, Jazz is much more reserved, more calculating. You can see that he still cares, but also that he is much more willing to manipulate them. I really like that Lyga didn't perpetuate the stupid/inept adult motif: Melissa is actually a competent social worker--and she is shown to be one. Likewise, G. William is a smart, resourceful cop. He neither dumbly bumbles along while Jazz solves everything, nor does G. William blindly hold Jazz accountable for his father's mistakes. Jazz's involvement with the police, while still fairly implausible, takes nothing away from the abilities of the adults. In fact, much of the procedural parts of the novel are almost anticlimactic in their authenticity--no CSI rush jobs of forensic results here. Most of the adults in Jasper's life are good people who actually want the best for him--and he knows that, even if he disagrees with them.
One would assume that Jasper would be at his worst when with his father (who, despite only actually appearing once is almost omnipresent in the novel). However, it is with his Grandmother--whom he clearly loves--that the scariest bits of Jasper's personality come out. Jazz recognizes what he is doing wrong with everyone else in his life; he sees when he is following bad advice from his father. However, it is the chilling things he does to his grandma that are the most frightening, because he is completely oblivious to just how wrong they are. It leads to some rather harrowing moments late in the book.
I Hunt Killers is undoubtedly a really good, thrillingly suspenseful mystery. And fans of the genre--adult and teen alike--couldn't go wrong reading it. But I would also say that, if one could get past the gore, the readership for I Hunt Killers is much larger than that. (I just don't know who precisely that readership would be.) I do know, however, that I Hunt Killers is now one of my favorite books, Barry Lyga has become an auto-buy, and I cannot wait for more from Jasper Dent.
The question for Jazz was this: Did he really care for Connie and Howie, or did he just think he did? It was the oldest philosophical question in the book--how do I know that what I see as blue and what you see as blue are the same thing?
Answer: We don't. We take it on faith.
5 of 5 stars
This review also appears on Goodreads; I purchased my copy from Barnes & Noble for Nook.