Sunday, August 5, 2012

Review: I HUNT KILLERS by Barry Lyga

Jasper (Jazz) Dent is a likable teenager. A charmer, one might say.

But he's also the son of the world's most infamous serial killer, and for Dear Old Dad, Take Your Son to Work Day was year-round. Jazz has witnessed crime scenes the way cops wish they could--from the criminal's point of view.

And now bodies are piling up in Lobo's Nod.

In an effort to clear his name, Jazz joins the police in a hunt for a new serial killer. But Jazz has a secret--could he be more like his father than anyone knows?
Do not read this book at night. I'm not kidding. Do not read this book at night, do not read this book when you are alone, do not read this book in a place that makes noises on its own. Do. Not. Do. It. Should you decide to ignore my advice, I am not responsible for the state of paranoia and general full-body heebie-jeebies that will follow.

I'm generally a pretty unflappable person when it comes to being scared by books, but this book had me on edge all day. In DAYLIGHT. It was like every psychotic episode of Criminal Minds and CSI rolled into one. I don't want to even think about how Lyga conducted his research, because he came across as pretty stinkin' on-point to me.
I love reading about serial killers. I love reading about murder and crime. I don't know why. I love crime shows and books on cadavers and those collections of "The World's Most Notorious Serial Killers" and stuff like that. When I read the synopsis for I Hunt Killers, I knew I had to read it. Not only would it have plenty of serial killer goodness, it was YA, it was a mystery, and it would delve into the more psychological aspect of crime.

Oh boy, did it ever. Jazz, understandably, is one seriously messed-up kid. His dad was a massively prolific serial killer, racking up victims into the triple digits. For thirteen years, Jazz not only lived with the fact that his father killed people (in gruesome, horrific ways) for fun, but he helped. Not with the actual killing - at least, not that he can remember - but with the cleanup, the disposal. And his dad told him stories of the stuff he had missed.

See, Dear Old Dad planned on Jazz taking up the family business and being the ultimate serial killer in a way that even he couldn't. Dear Old Dad ended up being caught when Jazz was thirteen, but Jazz still struggles with the guilt and the sneaking suspicion that he might be a lot like his dad after all. He's a charmer, almost sociopathically so. He lies, he steals, he cheats. He hears his dad's voice in his head, urging him on. He sees people and instead of seeing a waitress or a drama coach, he sees someone who would be so very easy to kill.

It's very unnerving, both for Jasper and for the reader (me!). The book is fraught with tension thanks to the grisly murders, because you know that in a few pages or a few chapters, a new dead body will turn up and it'll probably be someone you know. Time is running out. The killer must be caught. But there's also the tension of being inside Jasper's head, his uncomfortable, alien, sociopathic head. Because there's always that suspicion. He's so unreliable that he doesn't even trust himself - not with Sheriff G. Williams, not with his friend Howie, not even with his girlfriend Connie. He's afraid that at any moment he might snap, kill them all. Hunt them down like prey. And if he's so unreliable, how can we trust him to tell us everything? What if HE is the killer?

Me while reading this book
I tell you, this book was a test of my cardiovascular system.

Lyga nails it. He nails it all. Jasper and his struggles (with the murders, with himself, with Connie, with his crazy gramma) are all completely believable - somehow sympathetic and completely creepy at the same time. Dear Old Dad is bone-chillingly smooth. He captivates the entire book, holding it under his sway though he only appears in flashback for most of the book. He reminded me of Leck from Bitterblue, but lacking even that infinitesimal shred of humanity that Leck possessed (and that's saying something).

The supporting characters are just as interesting. Connie is sharp and stubborn, just what Jazz needs. She isn't afraid of him, though she very well should be. His best friend Howie is the same way. He's a riot, completely irrelevant and an absolute clown, though every now and then his antics grated on me a bit. G. Williams, the sheriff who arrested Jazz's father and the head of the current investigation, is neither the hick nor the roadblock you might consider him to be in the beginning. I liked him a lot.

I can't say enough about this book. I don't recommend it to everyone. Hello - SERIAL KILLERS. It's graphic and violent. Definitely way on the mature end of the YA scale. I wouldn't let my little sister read it, that's for sure. But it is very well-written and deserves every bit of praise it receives. It's the very first book I've ever read that I enjoyed thoroughly and still prayed fervently that there wouldn't be a sequel, because I wasn't sure I could stand any more.

Points Added For: Incredible believability and realism, sheer brilliance, scaring the pants off me, bi-racial relationships (they make me happy).

Points Subtracted For: I wish there'd been less language and less sex. In context, the language completely made sense, and serial killers often add a psychosexual component to their kills, so I can't really fault the book for the amount present, but I can stomach violence much better than the other stuff. Also, now I'm jumpy.

Good for Fans Of: Silence of the Lambs, And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, psychological thrillers, Alfred Hitchcock movies, serial killers,

Notes For Parents: Again, serial killers. Duh. Graphic violence, murder, torture. Mentions of sexual assault. Language. Also, this book is about a teenage boy, so he and his friend do have discussions about girls and sex (for the record, though, Jazz is a virgin).

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