Review

I Hunt Killers

by Barry Lyga

It's probably true that most teenagers, at some point, wish they could be born to different parents --- parents who are cooler or less strict or less demanding or just…different. But few teens have as much reason to feel that way as Jasper (Jazz) Dent. His mom disappeared years ago, and he barely remembers her. But he wishes he could forget his dad, the notorious serial killer Billy Dent, who killed more than 100 people before getting caught. Before Jazz was old enough to know better, Billy (who Jazz calls, with more than a little irony, "Dear Old Dad") attempted to teach Jazz the tricks of the trade.

"...an elegant, intriguing combination of philosophical inquiry and psychological suspense that will keep readers turning pages until the very end and will have them thinking about the questions it raises long afterwards."

And this didn't just include such practicalities as how to torture small animals or dispose of a dead body, either. Dear Old Dad schooled Jazz on how to think of people --- especially women --- as things rather than human beings, on how to kill without remorse, how to justify rape and torture and murder, and more. In short, on how to become a monster. Just like Dear Old Dad.

Now that Billy is in a high-security prison, though, Jazz is trying his best to have a normal high school life. Sure, he lives with his grandmother, who's rapidly becoming not only senile but also cruel in her old age. And he has to endure the disdain and pity of half the residents of the small town of Lobo's Nod. But he also has a best friend he would die for, and a girlfriend who's so smart, strong and sexy that he can't quite believe he really deserves her.

But when a dead body turns up in a field near Lobo's Nod, a naked woman with two of her fingers removed (the middle one left behind in an obvious gesture by the killer toward the police), Jazz starts experiencing those same old feelings. His dad is still locked up --- for good, he hopes --- but this has all the calling cards of another serial killer. Can Jazz help investigate the murderer? Could the things he learned from Dear Old Dad actually help him hunt --- rather than become --- a killer?

Along the way, Jazz clashes with the small-town police chief and a new investigator from out of town. But he also clashes with his own self-doubts and fears. His girlfriend reassures him that "'Sons aren't their fathers. Not the good, not the bad. Sons get second chances. You don't have to be what your dad is.'" But this is a fear that Jazz fights against every day.

Sure, much of what Jazz gets away with (breaking into a morgue, surprising a serial killer in the act of killing) probably would get a real kid arrested or even killed. Readers, though, will be more than happy to suspend disbelief in the company of a book this good. I HUNT KILLERS takes issues of nature vs. nurture, fate vs. free will, to the wildest possible extremes. But this makes the novel an elegant, intriguing combination of philosophical inquiry and psychological suspense that will keep readers turning pages until the very end and will have them thinking about the questions it raises long afterwards.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on April 27, 2012

I Hunt Killers
by Barry Lyga

  • Publication Date: April 2, 2013
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 0316125830
  • ISBN-13: 9780316125833