Cassie-wa Reviews “I Hunt Killers” by Barry Lyga

I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga (Advanced Reader Copy)
Release Date:
 April 3, 2012
Genre: Drama, action, suspense, mystery
Rating: 4.8999 out of 5 stars

Summary: Jasper “Jazz” Dent has a lot to deal with. He has the misfortune of being the son of Billy Dent, one of the world’s most notorious serial killers. For the first thirteen years of his life, Billy trained Jazz in the art of murdering people horribly and getting away with it. As a result, Jazz knows just about everything there is to know about killing. And he knows he would be really, really good at it.

Another dangerous result of his father’s training: Jazz is an expert manipulator. He’s so good at fooling other people, he hardly knows himself when he’s being truthful. And considering that he occasionally has to talk himself out of killing people, it’s no wonder he’s worried he might be a sociopath like his father. 

Years after Billy is sent to prison, bodies start turning up in the small town of Lobo’s Nod, and Jazz is the first to recognize the strange pattern in the murders. He becomes obsessed with solving the crimes, and he has one advantage over the police: the mind of a serial killer.

I Hunter Killers was AWESOME. I was super lucky to get an advanced copy, and proceeded to read it in less than two days. If you’re looking for a book that will make you audibly gasp or exclaim things like “AHH!” and “OHMYGOD!” and “OH NOOO!” and cause your roommate to look at you strangely, I HIGHLY recommend it!

People are real. People matter. This is the mantra Jazz repeats to himself over and over. For the same reason, he keeps photos of all 124 of his father’s victims on his bedroom wall (123 is the official count–they could never prove that Billy murdered Jazz’s mother), and his computer screen saver is a scrolling message: “Remember Bobby Joe Long,” a serial killer who, on impulse, let one of his victims get away.

Jazz uses these reminders to keep himself from, you know, becoming a murderer. Needless to say, he’s a pretty complicated kid.

The other characters don’t get as much attention as Jazz, but I still have some serious love for them. Jazz’s girlfriend Connie is AWESOME. One of the main reasons he started dating her is because his father never went after black girls (seriously, everything about this kid’s life is so creepy), but she turned out to be perfect for him. Not put off by his past, and not afraid that he’s going to murder her (although Jazz isn’t so sure), at the height of his angst and inner struggles, Connie will straight up point out that Jazz is being dramatic.

I’m not gonna lie, the whole “I love you but I want to kill you!” “I know you won’t ever hurt me!” dynamic immediately reminded me of Twilight. But you know, like if Bella and Edward were realistic people with realistic feelings? Also if Bella was a badass who could take care of herself… beside the point. YEY CONNIE!

Then there’s Howie, Jazz’s hilarious and long-suffering friend who can crack a joke in the direst of situations. Their devotion to each other is absolute and adorable. For example, Howie is a type A hemophiliac, which means he bruises super easily and could bleed out from even minor injuries. In exchange for accompanying him on occasionally illegal excursions (like breaking into a morgue), Jazz agrees to get a series of horrible tattoos in Howie’s place, including a Yosemite Sam back piece. Seriously.

Jazz cares deeply about his friends. He considers them his anchors to sanity, and knows that losing either one of them could be catastrophic. But he still doubts his own feelings for them. As he points out, sociopaths can have pets and take good care of them.

The whole tracking down a serial killer thing is awesome, but Jazz’s issues are definitely the main strength of the book. He is desperate not to become his father, which is confusing when he constantly hears his dad’s voice in his head, and his senile grandmother calls him “Billy,” and Connie, when she notices she is being manipulated, accuses him of “Billying” her.

Although Connie tries to convince Jazz to forget about his past, it’s not something he can just let go of easily. Billy is a shadow over the entire book, and one of the most chilling scenes is when Jazz finally confronts him…

It’s pretty interesting and scary how Billy’s evil manages to affect so many people in so many ways. Besides seriously screwing up Jazz, and murdering hundreds, he obviously ruined the lives of hundreds more. Jazz is occasionally confronted by the families of victims trying to understand what happened, or even blaming Jazz for not stopping his dad, and it’s really tragic. Then there’s the sheriff G. William, who is responsible for catching Billy and has looked out for Jazz ever since. His wife had recently died, and going through the gruesome process of tracking down a serial killer almost destroyed him completely. Then it becomes apparent (spoilers?) that the new killer is a Billy devotee, so even behind bars his legacy is destroying people. It’s a lot for one kid to go up against.

Jazz’s grandmother was probably the one thing I didn’t like about this book. Jazz has understandably confused feelings about her. On the one hand, he is the only one caring for her, and on some level, he wants to care for her. But she’s also actually insane, often angry and violent, and he thinks about killing her more than a few times. What’s weird is that he constantly thinks of her as the cause of Billy’s evil–like the evil child sprang from her evil womb or something.

Gramma herself is convinced Jazz’s mom is what turned Billy, even though Billy tortured animals as a very young child. So was he born evil, or did he have evil thrust upon him?? It seems pretty clear that Billy was born with something wrong with him, but Jazz still blames his grandmother. And can we assume Jazz would have been perfectly normal if the first thirteen years of his life weren’t murderer boot camp? The book presents a lot of questions about nature vs. nurture, but doesn’t really answer them. Maybe the point is that there aren’t any real answers. Or if there are, they don’t matter. What matters is if Jazz has the strength to choose to be something else.

I Hunt Killers finishes up nicely with the mystery (mostly) solved and Jazz managing to come to some conclusions about himself. But with one BIG open-ended question, I could not be more excited to see what happens next!!

THE GOOD:
-“AHH!” “OHMYGOD!” “OH NOOO!”
-Jazz is tragic and fascinating, and you root for him the whole way even though he kind of wants to kill people
-Awesome friend characters
-Gripping mystery story

THE BAD:
-Gramma’s evil womb (never actually said in so many words, but still…)
-Although I love the jokey jokes, I’d love to see more to Howie!

I’m very, very excited for this book’s release in April. Make sure you check it out so we can all impatiently wait for the next one!

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4 thoughts on “Cassie-wa Reviews “I Hunt Killers” by Barry Lyga

  1. Can’t wait to read it!!! It’s sounds like a young adult Dexter, you know minus all the brutal murdering of other serial-killers.

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