Thursday, October 11, 2012

Book Review: I Hunt Killers: Barry Lyga

I Hunt Killers
Barry Lyga
YA: Contemporary Thriller
Published: 2012

What if the world's most notorious serial killer... was your father?

Image: Goodreads
Pretty heavy for a YA book. Barry Lyga handles this subject matter expertly by focusing on Jasper aka Jazz's struggle. Having a dad in prison is enough for a sixteen-year-old to deal with, but when that dad is a notorious serial killer... whoa.

In Jazz's small town, where he lives with his increasingly senile grandmother, new crimes start cropping up that seem eerily similar to killings his father, who he refers to as Billy to distance himself, planned in his legacy. Jasper just knows his dad is somehow involved. Jazz is immediately a sympathetic character--can you imagine going to school every day where people know your father is a serial killer? He flashes back to memories with Billy as he tries to piece together the recent crimes. An unsettling realization occurs, that he's unsure if he ever contributed to a killing. Anger against his father has clouded some of his memories--is he blocking a particularly horrible incident? Beyond that, does being the son of a killer mean he's destined to become one too? Jasper is determined to help the police find the truth, not only to help future victims, but to prove to himself he can create his own fate and not become a killer himself. Only the police see a delinquent teen with a criminal dad and suspect that Jasper is involved, making the challenge of proving himself even more tough.

Here's an excerpt:
It was natural for sons to worship their fathers, anyway. And when the father in question was a charismatic dragon who taught his child that society's rules did not apply to him, that other people were either chattel or prey, that the world had been made for the two of them and no one else...
 That was the worse sort of control. A sort of brainwashing that Jazz has only managed to throw off when Billy's arrest approached.  It was as though he'd been helpless to rebel against his upbringing, until the world itself put the lie to Billy's promise that the worlds' laws didn't matter. And then, slowly--so damn slowly--Jazz came to realize that his father was a devil, not a god. 

Needless to say, not a lot of romance here, but Jazz does have a girlfriend, who he realistically feels shortcomings with. He also has a best friend named Howie, who belongs in the category of great sidekicks in YA fiction. Howie's a hemophiliac with a brutal sense of humor; he asks Jazz about his middle name since serial killers always go by three names. He wants to see if it fits. Dark! But the humor is welcome to offset some of the heavier concepts, plus it enriches the characters and makes them more relatable.

It's hard to say much more without ruining the book, but the mystery element is fairly standard, like an episode of Criminal Minds, and meeting Dear Ole Dad proves just as creepy as you expect. This book has been billed as "YA Dexter," which is sort of inaccurate but I get it. Lyga definitely takes this in his own direction and builds a great narrative with Jazz, which is the book's strength. While it's dark, the violence is definitely tempered for a YA audience, and it explores the effects of brutal killings with surprising depth. Jazz has his whole life ahead of him, can he choose his own fate?

This is book 1 of a series, so stayed tuned.


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