I Hunt Killers
by Barry Lyga
Do you believe violent offenders are the product of nature or nurture? In the case of 17-year-old Jasper “Jazz” Dent, he’s got both factors working against him. Not only is he the son of the country’s most notorious serial killer, but dear old daddy even forced him to watch those grisly crimes and sometimes…more.
I’ve always been interested in how human beings cope with extreme circumstances, and the way children in particular can demonstrate remarkable resilience. I Hunt Killers sets up a fascinating scenario showing how both environment and biology can contribute to certain conditioned responses and behaviors—and how an innate sense of human decency might be strong enough to overcome even the worst of upbringings. At least that’s what Jazz keeps telling himself. Because now that he suspects that a new serial killer is at work in his small town, he’s flashing back to memories that make him extremely uneasy. Did he help kill someone he loved without knowing it? Is he destined to follow in his father’s footsteps?
What sets this novel apart from all the other paint-by-numbers mysteries is that Jazz is an incredibly complex, believable character. The book has been billed as “Dexter for YA” and it’s an apt comparison; Jazz is likable, relatable, and consumed by the idea that he may not be able to stop himself from doing harm to others. The story itself is engaging, with the masterfully detailed, well-researched criminology aspects related in an accessible way. The book is also HILARIOUS from beginning to end. I didn’t expect to be laughing so much at a book about a possible serial killer in the making, but it’s impossible to resist the graveyard banter running through Jazz’s seasoned, offhand narrative.
Making a duplicate key from a wax impression was an extremely useful skill to have if you were the sort of person who liked invading other people’s homes and killing them.
And later, his best friend Howie earnestly asks him what his middle name is, because he’s sure that serial killers all have three names! The choice to use humor to hook the reader into the story is brilliant, and I thoroughly enjoyed being in Jazz’s conflicted and absurdly playful head.
Despite its humorous tone and exceptional writing, however, my guess is that this is going to be an extremely polarizing book. Its refusal to look away from the often horrific nature of brutal crimes and twisted mind games will be shocking to readers who aren’t used to these kinds of details. Early in the book we’re eased into some crimes because they’re mostly told in past tense, but the later scenes definitely escalate in tension and violence, although I don’t think they really cross the line in terms of being gratuitous rather than graphic.
If I had to quibble about anything, I’d say that Jazz’s give and take relationship with the police is something readers will need to accept, although their doubtful reliance upon him is portrayed in a fairly believable tone. And as with all murder novels, I wasn’t particularly keen on the few scenes told from the killer’s point of view. But those things are really almost incidental when the writing is nearly pitch-perfect in balancing ghoulish humor and a macabre subject.
It’s so exciting to see YA that pushes boundaries in this way. While I confess that I'm a little uneasy about the idea of 13-year-old being exposed to this sort of information, I don’t think the book contains too much explicit material that older teens or adults already haven’t seen in other forms of entertainment. I strongly urge readers to carefully consider whether this is a subject that they want to read about, however, because this book certainly isn’t for the faint of heart. But for the right audience, this thriller will hit all the right notes for an unforgettable reading experience. Its dark, disturbing, and devilishly funny vibe is pure genius.
This review also appears on GoodReads. An advance copy was provided by the publisher. Recommended for mature teens and adults only.
Rated 4.5 out of 5 stars
Release Date: April 3, 2012
If you’re intrigued by the sound of this book, stay tuned. We’ll be giving away an advanced readers copy next week on the blog, along with some other YA titles.