I Hunt Killers: review

March 30, 2012 2012, 4.5 star books, barry lyga, mystery, Wendy 61

I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga, Dexter, YA

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

ARC Giveaway!

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.

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61 Responses to “I Hunt Killers: review”

  1. Denise Berube

    Great review, love books like this, especially when they have the criminology aspect to them and as you said I cannot imagine laughing through a book like this.

  2. Lucy

    I was doubtful as to whether or not I would enjoy this book, but after reading your review I’m thinking I’ll have to give it a go :)

  3. Adriana C

    This book sounds in interesting, not my usual type of book but I will end up reading it.
    Great review!

    • Wendy Darling

      Such an awesome book, Amber–I didn’t expect to like it (so many potential pitfalls), but I really did! Hope you enjoy when you get around to it.

  4. Book Sake

    Wonderful review. I’ve been wondering how this book was, being a fan of Dexter and all. I’ve read one Lyga book, The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl, and he definitely gets inside his characters heads quite well. Can’t wait to read this one!

    - Jessica @ Book Sake

  5. Celine

    WOW Wendy! I haven’t heard of this book before but seeing how you gave it a 4.5 stars rating, this book automatically goes to my TBR! The book sounds a bit creepy and chilly but I’m definitely interested.

    Awesome review, Wendy! ♥ So glad you enjoyed it!

    • Wendy Darling

      Yay, I’m glad you’re going to give it a chance, Celine! It’s definitely not a book everyone can stomach, but if you like DEXTER and thrillers, it may be right up your alley. :) Thanks for stopping by!

    • Wendy Darling

      It *is* absolutely fabulous! I’m glad you’re going to give it a shot, Amber. :) Let me know if what you end up thinking of it.

    • Wendy Darling

      The giveaway will indeed be open to our wonderful international readers, Joy. :) I love that you use the word “pining” for a book like that, hah!

  6. Amy

    This book sounds really good. I like when books take on a little bit darker subject sometimes. Wonderful review.

    • Wendy Darling

      Thanks Amy! I love books that are darker–and I think readers who are comfortable with thrillers will enjoy this, too.

  7. YA Anonymous

    My reaction to reading this review was, “Holy crap!” This sounds so intriguing. Thanks for bringing it to my attention — which it totally has now. Great review, Wendy!
    -Maggie

  8. Natalie (Mindful Musings)

    I have to admit…I’m always fascinated by the grisly and the macabre, so this book sounds like one I’ll have to check out, especially since it seems to be very different from most of the YA books I’ve encountered.

    • Wendy Darling

      This is definitely one of the most unusual YA books I’ve ever read, Savannah. Fingers crossed that you’ll enjoy it!

  9. Vegan YA Nerds

    This sounds so interesting and creepy at the same time, Wendy. I tried watching Dexter, it wasn’t for me but I think this sounds like something I need to read. I’d never heard of it before so I’m glad you reviewed it!

    • Wendy Darling

      Oh my. I’m curious what you’d think of this one if you aren’t so much a Dexter fan. Let me know if you end up reading it!

  10. Lexie

    Fantastic review, as always. I’m stunned that I haven’t heard of this one before; it’s right up my alley. I don’t mind graphicness so long as it isn’t simply for the shock factor; if it adds something to the book, I am perfectly alright. Also, I love when books with a serious topic manage to incorporate humor into the book without making it seem odd or cheesy. It’s easier to handle, in a way.

    I’ll have to get my hands on a copy of this when it releases. :D

    • Wendy Darling

      Thanks Lexie. The violence isn’t there with cheap shocks and thrills–it’s appropriate for the subject material, and while it definitely pushes some boundaries, I’m comfortable with with mature teens reading it. And the humor definitely helps the reader accept the gruesome parts of the story.

      Look forward to seeing what you think of it!

  11. Candace

    Wow, I don’t think I ever heard of this one before but it sounds pretty freaking crazy! I’m very curious about it and hearing that it has some very funny bits has me REALLY wanting to read it. I’ll watch for it at the library in the future cause I really think this is one I may enjoy. Thanks for the awesome review and putting it on my radar!

    • Wendy Darling

      It’s hilarious, Candace! The humor took me completely by surprise. I hope it shows up at your library soon. :) thanks for stopping by!

  12. Melliane

    Oh I didn’t know about this book, and I don’t think I’ve ever read a book like that. But it sounds very interesting to have something different. and well if the writing style is amazing what more can we ask for?

  13. Heidi@Rainy Day Ramblings

    Wow, I am itching for this one. My inner pscyhologist is dying to read the nature vs. nature angle. I had no idea about this book until I put togehter Froday Forecast. Your review sealed the deal! Have a great weekend, Wendy!

  14. Anna @ Literary Exploration

    I am soooooo excited for this one!!! Barry Lyga is coming to my local indie next week and I’m STOKED to meet him :) I’m really looking forward to reading this one! AWESOME review :)

  15. Missie, The Unread Reader

    I definitely have a soft spot for characters that try to overcome their situations, especially those that are conflicted yet playful. And, you’re right, it is very exciting to find those gems where authors push the boundaries.

    • Wendy Darling

      Jazz sure does have a lot to overcome. I go back and forth about whether this is appropriate for YA, but fortunately, I’m not a librarian or a parent (yet), so I don’t really have to worry about that right now, hah.

    • Wendy Darling

      It’s pretty scary overall, Carrie, and I can totally understand why it won’t appeal to everyone. Thanks for stopping by, though!

  16. Jenny

    Wow, this sounds amazing! I’m sometimes a little squeamish with murder mysteries, but I think all the positives you mentioned in your review will be worth a little squeamishness.

    Also, I’m starting STRUCK today and I see you’re reading it now, can’t wait to see what you think!

    • Wendy Darling

      There are some pretty wince-inducing scenes later in the book, Jenny–even though I was comfortable with the material, it still gave me a bit of pause since this is technically a YA book. I can’t wait to see your reaction!

      And STRUCK is pretty fascinating so far. :) I find myself obsessing over all the Los Angeles details, hah. Look forward to comparing notes!

    • Wendy Darling

      “Intense” is definitely the right word for this one. It’s not a book that will appeal to everyone, but I think some readers will really enjoy it!

  17. FABR Steph

    This is my first time hearing about this book. It sounds really interesting. It is almost unimaginable that it could have an element of humor, but I often appreciate that when reading a book with some heavier content. Thank you for the great review and the recommendation.
    - FABR Steph

    • Wendy Darling

      It’s consistently funny throughout the book, Steph–it’s pretty amazing how the author was able to keep the reading engaged. Thanks for stopping by!

  18. starryeyedjen

    I’m reading this one next! :) I’m on a murder-mystery kick right now, and every one I’ve read lately has been pretty great. Glad to hear this one won’t disappoint, either!

  19. Mimi Valentine

    Oh my gosh, your review is SO awesome, Wendy! x) I saw the cover and thought, “Oh, this looks like a really scary thriller!” But your review called it hilarious and engaging, and I think this makes me want to read it even more since it’s not ALL doom-and-gloom! (Surprising humor is the best because you don’t expect it!) And I love that it pushes the boundaries of YA too :)

    REALLY amazing review, Wendy! I probably wouldn’t have glanced twice at this book before, but OH LOOK — it’s climbing up my TBR pile now! x) <3

    • Wendy Darling

      Hah. I associate you with such sunniness, Mimi, that I am very curious what you’d think of this book! It really is pretty scary later on, but the humor makes it extremely readable. :)

  20. Sam

    You know, I sometimes love to read about dark and disturbing stories. I don’t know what that says about me. ;) This sounds like it could be a very interesting experience, to say the least. Brilliant review as always! I’m glad you pointed out that it isn’t all heavy in this book and there is a good bit of humour too. Sounds great! :)

  21. Shirley

    Wow…I’m really intrigued by this now! Anything to do with crime, serial killers I will definitely read :D And it’s great that despite the intensity, there’s humour as well! I’m sooo looking forward to this! Fabulous review, Wendy<3

    • Wendy Darling

      It sounds like this book is right up your alley then, Shirley! Please let me know what you think of it when you get around to reading it. :)

  22. Andrea @The Bookish Babes

    I just noticed this book two days ago. It does sound very interesting. I’m thrilled and amazed that it’s able to be humorous as well as dark and twisty. I will definitely consider reading it. Great review,Wendy, as always!

    • Wendy Darling

      I was astounded how perfectly the author balances the humorous tone and the very dark, twisted material, Andrea. It’s probably more of a 4 star book for me in terms of how much I liked it (although I REALLY liked it), but I had to tip it up a bit to acknowledge how great the writing was. Thanks!

  23. Rachel

    I loved Dexter (although I haven’t watched the last two seaons!) so this has me excited. It’s funny that you mention not liking chapters written in the POV of the killer. I can’t stand that as well.

    • Wendy Darling

      I have NEVER enjoyed the killer’s POV thing, Rachel, and so many authors seem to do it! I’m just not sure it ever adds much to the story, and it always feels like an interruption in the flow of the narrative. Still, it doesn’t happen too much here, though.

      Can’t wait for you to read this! :)

  24. ashelynn hetland

    I like the idea of this book, but from your review, I had no idea that it would get so GRAPHIC. I’m a little hesitant on reading it, but will be since I do like the idea…

    • Wendy Darling

      It’s pretty graphic later in the book, Ashelynn. I’m really curious to see what overall reactions to this book will be. Look forward to your review when you get a chance to read it!