Book Review: I Hunt Killers

I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga. April 2012. 9780316125840. Gr 9-12.

Many kids look up to their fathers and want to grow up to be just like them.  Others want to blaze their own trail and aim to be the polar opposite of their father.  Jasper “Jazz” Dent is definitely in the latter category.  His father, Billy Dent, is the nation’s most notorious serial killer, having foiled authorities for years and killed over a hundred people, all while blending into society in the sleepy town of Lobo’s Nod.  Now that his father is behind bars, Jazz lives his life under the wary gaze of the townspeople who are (justifiably?) nervous that Jazz will follow in his infamous father’s footsteps.

Not only did Jazz’ father commit heinous crimes, but he enlisted Jazz as a junior partner, exposing the young Jazz to strategies and methods of stalking and murder.  Jazz, now a teenager who hasn’t seen his father in years, sees himself as a ticking time bomb.  He knows that his father’s manipulation and influence have shaped him, and he realizes that he shares characteristics with other serial killers; he can charm people, he knows how police operate, and he can get inside people’s heads.  He has to constantly remind himself not to become his father.  So, when bodies start showing up in Lobo’s Nod, Jazz uses his knowledge of a murderer’s mind to help police track down the killer.

Barry Lyga is the author of other highly-regarded young adult novels that, like I Hunt Killers, don’t shy away from dark and heavy topics.  In The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl, he tackles the topics of bullying, depression, and suicide.  Boy Toy, his second novel, deals with child sexual abuse.  So it is no surprise that he delves into the dark recesses of the human mind to explore serial killers and psychopathology.  While this topic is likely very interesting to many teen readers, the underlying theme and debate of nature versus nurture is apt to make them reflect upon their own lives and relationships.  Are we pre-programmed to become who we are, or are we free to become whoever we want to become?

I Hunt Killers is a thrilling, heart-pounding, roller coaster of a book.  It certainly isn’t for the faint of heart, as there are gory and grotesque scenes.  However, Lyga does a nice job of lightening the mood with Jazz’ best friend, Howie.  Howie provides needed comic relief as a hemophiliac sidekick that helps to humanize Jazz’ character.  Lyga heightens the mystery as the story progresses, and keeps you guessing throughout.  This is a dark and violent story, so I recommend this one for older readers only.  This is the first title in a planned trilogy, and I Hunt Killers ends with enough loose ends and hints of what is to come that I can’t wait for the next book in the series!

Recommended for fans of CSI, true crime, Dexter, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and books that keep you up at night!

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