(Jasper Dent #2)
Author: Barry Lyga
3.5 out of 5 stars
April 16, 2013
Publisher: Little Brown
Age Group: YA
Source: ARC from publisher
I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga was one of my favorite books last year. Between the graveyard humor and the taut plotting and the excellent character sketch of a boy who fears he may become a serial killer like his father, I was both intrigued and excited by the story.
I have more…mixed feelings about the sequel. While it’s certainly still well-researched and well-executed, the focus has changed from suspense–albeit with gory underpinnings–to a more typical thriller. Since it’s written like adult crime fiction with a teenager suddenly in the middle, it’s a little harder to suspend disbelief that the authorities would rely so heavily on a 17-year-old’s input (to the point of taking him across state lines), no matter what his parentage.
Things I liked: it’s still fun to be in Jazz’s head. The secondary characters, including his best friend Howie, are interesting and diverse. There are some good action scenes. It’s fascinating that Jazz is afraid that having sex with his girlfriend Connie will trigger latent violent tendencies, even though he deliberately chose a girl whose ethnicity doesn’t fit the usual victim profile; Jazz’s self-awareness in general, and his attempts to keep himself in check, are so well done. And dear heaven, I will never, ever be able to look at a grapefruit spoon in the same way again.
Things I struggled with: Distracting limited multiple POVs. Creepy flashbacks of sexual encounters Jazz has blocked from his mind–they reminded me of the voyeuristic ones from Boy Toy. A TV episode-style cliffhanger. Investigators who are portrayed in a fairly stereotypical way in order to serve the “boy detective” premise. A lot of scenes written from the perspective of the killer’s, which is rarely a technique I find engaging. And unfortunately, every time the words “Hat-Dog Killer” popped up, I read “Hot Dog Killer,” which didn’t help matters at all.
The thing is, my favorite part of Jasper Dent’s story is not the crimes in and of themselves, but the riveting psychological profile of a boy who’s on the brink of making the choice to ignore his baser instincts and violent training–or to unleash the scary ass monster that you know is hiding inside him. The skilled observations of human behavior present in I Hunt Killers take a back seat to cat and mouse, Lecter-like machinations in Game’s more action-oriented plot, and as a result I was less inclined to overlook the more unlikely scenarios–and less inclined to care about what happens to Jazz himself.
But am I still excited by the series? Hell, yes. There’s a lot to be said for books that push boundaries, and even those that make us uncomfortable. I may have mixed feelings about this particular installment of the Jasper Dent saga, but the author’s writing, gift for narrative voice, sense of humor, and excellent research will ensure I’ll read just about anything he’s written. I’m just hoping that the final book in Jazz’s story makes a return to the things I loved best about the first book: the origin story of a serial killer, or the survival of a man who chose good over evil. Thrillers are a dime a dozen; it’s the complexities of individual human drama and emotion that make a story stand out.
This review also appears on GoodReads. An advance copy was provided by the publisher.
PS–have a look at Barry holding a tray of bloody cupcakes. If you like.