Thursday, October 16, 2014

I Hunt Killers

I Hunt Killers
Barry Lyga
Little Brown, 2012  359 pgs
Grades 9-Up

Welcome to the confusing world of Jasper (Jazz) Dent, son of the most famous and notorious serial killer of our fictional times, Billy Dent.  Billy has been locked away in prison since Jazz was thirteen, but the lessons and abuse he suffered under his father are still lurking in a hazy, omnipresent way.  Now Jazz lives with his Grandmother, has a nice girlfriend, Connie, and a best friend, Howie, who suffers from hemophilia.  A new serial killer is on the loose in Jazz's small town.  He recognizes the patterns and brings his findings to the attention of the sheriff who put Billy behind bars, G. William, who has since become a personal friend.  At first G. William rejects Jazz's help and discounts his theories.  As the victims begin to pile up it becomes clear that Jazz was right and the new killer is mirroring the career of Billy.  Who better to track down a Billy impersonator than his own son?  Jazz lends his services to the investigation, including visiting Billy in the state penitentiary for the first time to try to get information from him.  Throughout the investigation we see the workings of Jazz's mind: the confusion of his past and his struggle processing the emotions of his present.  Meanwhile, a social worker is concerned about his living situation, noticing that Gramma's condition is deteriorating and is threatening Jazz with a foster home.  Throughout all his personal problems and angst, Jazz continues to hunt down the murderer.  After many close calls, dead ends, and the near loss of Howie, Jazz tracks down the new serial killer and brings him to justice, only to have a new development smack him in the face; a twist that will lead readers straight to the second book in the series.

First in the Jasper Dent series, I Hunt Killers is an edgy thriller not for the faint of heart.  It is graphically violent and descriptive in content and I would have loved it when I was in high school.  The violence all makes sense to the story and Jazz, despite his inner battles, is a good guy.  This book is the perfect transition for teen readers who are not quite ready for adult thrillers.  When I was a teenager I read Stephen King and Anne Rice because well written, suspenseful books for older teenagers were not available.  Now its a different world and Barry Lyga has found his niche in it.  The mystery aspect of the book was tight.  Plenty of suspects were introduced and the killer, although gettable, was not too obvious.  Jazz is a well developed character, which is unusual for this genre.  We see him struggling to maintain healthy relationships, all while battling violent emotions and urges stemming from his upbringing.  At first I thought that maybe Jazz was an unreliable narrator (which would have been cool) or that maybe his sheriff friend was responsible for the killings (also would have been cool), but early on those theories were dismissed as Lyga chose a more traditional route.  It felt weird where Lyga picked up Jazz's story, we never see G. William's investigation and arrest of Billy.  I felt like I was reading the second in the series and kept making sure that it is indeed the first.  Lyga has since written a prequel focusing on these past events, so I guess I was not the only one wanting more background.  My only real complaint with the book is that Jazz has had such a traumatic childhood, yet none of the concerned adults in his life insist he gets some therapy (the sheriff mentions that he sees a therapist because of the Billy Dent arrest, why wouldn't he encourage Jazz to do the same?).  This could be my "mother brain" kicking in as I was reading the book, but I just wanted to grab that boy and drag him to a therapist!  The mystery is satisfactorily solved by the end and the killer revealed.  Lyga throws in a cool surprise twist at the end of the book that will have readers racing for installment number two: Blood of My Blood, released last month.

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