This is kind of cheating, because I actually read Barry Lyga’s YA thriller I Hunt Killers two weeks ago. However, I’m currently only about halfway through George R. R. Martin’s A Clash of Kings (A Song of Ice and Fire, book two), and thus I don’t have much to say about that book today (other than that I’m enjoying it!). Besides—I just did a Game of Thrones post fairly recently. No need for another one. Yet…
So I’m backtracking to a book I loved and haven’t written about yet!
I Hunt Killers is about a boy, Jazz (nickname for Jasper), who is the son of the country’s most famous and horrifying serial killer, Billy Dent. Jazz was raised by Billy after his mom left when he was young (or did she?), and “Dear Old Dad” basically imparted all of his rules for being a killer to his young son. Needless to say, it was a traumatic childhood. Billy was caught and arrested when Jazz was 12, and since then Jazz has lived with his senile, racist, angry grandmother. (Since the alternative is foster care or a group home, Jazz actually stays with his horrible grandmother by choice.)
Jazz has been trying to learn how to live a normal life. He has a girlfriend, Connie, and a best friend, Howie. He’s trying to do well in school. But his father is a shadow that looms over him. Jazz is terrified that serial killing runs in the family, that one day he’ll snap and pick up where Billy left off. He’s never sure if the emotions he’s feeling—affection, friendship, fear, sorrow—are real, or if they’re something his father taught him how to fake in order to fit in. And since no one at school really can understand the world Jazz grew up in, the things he was forced to see and do, he is set apart, and he does have to fake certain emotions to get by.
Then a body is found in his small town. Jazz is sure the killer isn’t done, and he takes it upon himself to solve the crime. He’s sure he is just as qualified to handle the job, thanks to his upbringing, as the police are. As he becomes more and more obsessed with stopping the new killer, Jazz realizes that it isn’t just about saving lives—he also has to prove to himself and everyone else that he is NOT his father.
I went through a major mystery novel phase in high school. I wasn’t very discriminating, reading everything from so-called “cozy” mysteries (mystery-solving cats, mystery-solving pastry chefs, mystery-solving quilters, etc.) to the dark, scary, gory, and sometimes creepily sexy realm occupied by Patricia Cornwell and the like. I sped through series, setting one book down only to immediately start the next one. Some of them—especially read one after the next—were pretty formulaic. A few gave me nightmares. But I loved them.
I Hunt Killers reminded me of that period in my reading life. This book was creepy and scary. The mystery was plotted brilliantly—so much so that I don’t want to give any more details away, for fear of spoiling the experience. But I Hunt Killers is also something new, a murder mystery written from the point of view of a killer’s child—the collateral damage of a life of horrifying crime. My husband and I watch “Dexter” (no spoilers for seasons 7 or 8, please!), and Lyga has written a twist on the serial killer genre that is just as fascinating. I can’t wait to pick up the second book in the series, Game, which just came out in hardcover!
If you like mysteries, check out this fascinating glimpse into the head of a boy who has all the tools he needs to become a killer—and who desperately wants to avoid doing just that.