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Review: I Hunt Killers
I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga. Little, Brown & Co. 2012. Reviewed from ARC from publisher.
The Plot: You may have heard about Jasper Dent’s father. Billy Dent? The Artist? Green Jack. Yes, THAT Billy Dent. The serial killer.
What’s Jazz up to now? He was, what, thirteen when his father was arrested? So now he’s seventeen?
Right now, at this moment, he’s hiding in some trees, binoculars trained on a bunch of police and yellow police tape. Looking at what they’re looking at — a dead body. A dead body in a field. A dead body, in a field, that’s naked. With fingers missing.
It’s not the first dead body Jazz has seen. Billy never hid what he did from his son; Billy taught his son the tricks of the trade.
Jazz knows: this is not just any murder. This is a serial killer. And as the son of the infamous Billy Dent, he knows people will be looking at Jazz with suspicion and fear.
There’s only one solution. Whether the cops want his help or not, Jazz is going to use all that Billy taught him about how to be a serial killer to find a serial killer.
The Good: The concept alone is terrific. The son of a serial killer using his knowledge to hunt other serial killers? A serial killer book for teens? Sign. me. up.
What truly rocks is that I Hunt Killers is more than just a cool premise. It is also a fascinating study about choice and dark desires and hope. It is a character study, a study of Jazz, who is doubly cursed by nature and nurture. Is he destined to be a killer because he is the son of a killer? Is he destined to be a killer because he was taught to be a killer?
For as long as Jazz can remember, Billy Dent didn’t hide who he was. Doesn’t every parent have human teeth in their nightstand? Billy had plans for Jazz: “You’ll be the greatest ever, Jasper. They’ll never catch you. You’ll be the new boogeyman parents use to scare their kids into behaving. You’ll make everyone forget Speck and Dahmer and even Jack the Goddamn Ripper. My boy. My boy.” According to Billy, the only people who are real, who matter, who exist, are Billy and Jasper. This is the lesson Jasper has learned, and it’s a lesson he fights to unlearn, reminding himself that people are real; people matter; even those he’s never met, they are real. They matter. They shouldn’t be tortured and killed.
Jazz is the son of a serial killer, taught how to clean up evidence and how to dispose of bodies. Every dark thought he has makes him wonder, “am I thinking this because I am a killer?” Despite it all, he hopes – hopes that he is not. Hopes that his friendship with Howie and his relationship with his girlfriend Connie are not just things he’s doing to look “normal,” the way Billy was a good neighbor who coached sports teams to look “normal.”
Other lessons, Jasper tries to forget. Like what happened to his dog, Rusty. Like what happened to his missing mother. And some lessons . . . . Jasper uses. And even enjoys a little. Like turning on the smile to get what he wants. Like reading people, to know what buttons to push to get them to do what he wants.
The portrait of Jazz is brilliant. Jazz, fearing he is what his father wants, fighting it, yet wondering if maybe he really is a killer like his father.
Jasper. Oh, Jasper. Not only is he stuck with being Billy Dent’s son, he also has Gramma Dent to deal with. Billy’s mother is a nasty, mean, bitter woman whose best quality is her dementia. At one point Jazz sees a photograph of his grandmother as a young woman, and oh the questions — what turned her into such a mean, sour person? What went on in that house years ago that created Billy Dent?
The plotting and pacing of I Hunt Killers is perfect: it begins with Jazz observing the police investigation of a dead girl and takes place over the following days as Jazz becomes increasingly convinced this is the work of a serial killer while the police dismiss his theories. Lyga gives the reader two stories: the present story of the dead girl in the field, and the story of Billy Dent. The connection between the two is Jazz. The information about Billy, his past crimes, Jazz’s twisted childhood are given in bite-size doses, just enough to let us know how bad it was without overwhelming the reader. They mystery and the suspense were so overwhelming that I almost stapled the last chapter shut to prevent myself from cheating and skipping ahead to the end, to find out both “who done it” and who survived to the last page.
One last thing: this is going to be a great crossover for adult readers who like true crime and serial killer stories, especially those who don’t like them with gore. Don’t get me wrong: Lyga doesn’t hide the violence and brutality of Billy Dent and his crimes. Murder, torture, rape. But, here’s the thing: Lyga uses few words, leaving it to the reader’s imagination. One or two sentences describes what Billy did, rather than pages and pages of explicit detail.
Because I find myself almost being charmed by Billy Dent. Because I hope that Jazz doesn’t become his father. Because of Jazz’s friendships with Howie and Connie. Because I turned page after page, needing to know what would happen next, unable to guess. Because I am rooting for Jazz. Because I love a good mystery and have a weakness for stories about serial killers. I Hunt Killers is a Favorite Book Read in 2012.
Filed under: Favorite Books Read in 2012, Reviews
About Elizabeth Burns
Looking for a place to talk about young adult books? Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea, and let's chat. I am a New Jersey librarian. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer, SLJ, YALSA, or anyone else. On Twitter I'm @LizB; my email is email@example.com.
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