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Friday, February 21, 2014

I Hunt Killers (Jasper Dent #1) by Barry Lyga

What if the world's worst serial killer...was your dad?

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?

Released: April 3rd 2012                       Pages: 361
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company   Source: Library

First Look: ***** If not for the disappointment that was Project Cain, I probably wouldn't have picked this up.  I wanted so badly to love Project Cain, though, and when I didn't, I needed to go find myself a book about a similar topic, in the hopes that I'd like it.  Thankfully, I Hunt Killers more than made up for my annoyance with Project Cain.  (Basically, I read this book as revenge against another book.  My guess is that this isn't normal behavior.)

Setting: ****
Though the setting didn't play as big a role here as in many other books I've reviewed, it still played a significant part in the novel.  I loved the small-town atmosphere of Lobo's Nod.  If this had taken place in a big city, it wouldn't be the same.  It was interesting to see how the town reacted to Jazz, and the culture that surrounds him.   

Characters: *****  
Jasper Dent (Jazz) scares me. I have never before read about a protagonist that I love and fear at the same time.  I could go from "You're fascinating and awesome and I love you" to "RUN AWAY RUN AWAY" in the space of a sentence or two.  The psychological aspect of this book is arguably the most interesting and well-written part.  Jazz has both nature and nurture working against him, and it messes with his brain in a way that is disturbingly believable.  Essentially, he knows that he has a serial killer buried somewhere deep inside him, due to genetics and his upbringing--the challenge is to keep it hidden, to make sure it never sees the light of day.  At times, it comes close to the surface, and Jazz walks a thin line between normalcy and insanity.  The best part is that Barry Lyga makes him seem so real.

Other characters were interesting and believable as well.  I can't help but admire Connie for dating Jazz--for multiple reasons, that takes a lot of courage.  I wouldn't do it, and I can't say dating him is a smart idea, but I like how she feels confident enough to do it.  Howie, while a bit annoying at times, added some humor to the story.  Billy Dent, Jazz's serial killer dad, was scary simply because he came across as a completely sane, healthy person.  

Plot: ***** 
The plot kept me guessing.  I thought I had figured out exactly who the killer was, but then it went and flipped all my expectations upside-down. But I figured out exactly who both the killer and the target were in The Sign of Three before Sherlock did, so I still win.  The main storyline is a murder mystery, but it's anything but standard.  We see it from such a unique angle--it's not the police or detectives solving the mystery for justice, it's a serial killer's kid solving it to prove he's not a killer himself.  It's a race to stop the killer at the same time as it's a race to not become a killer.  And that brings everything up to a whole new level.

The mystery/thriller aspect is interesting, but what's even better is Jazz's inner conflict.  Inner conflict is most often more important to a novel than external conflict--I Hunt Killers is proof of that.  The closer Jazz gets to uncovering the killer, the harder it is for him to convince himself he's not a murderer, not a sociopath.  Without this constant teetering on the line between sanity and insanity, the book wouldn't have been half as good.

Uniqueness: ***** I've never read anything like this.  It's an unusual take on a YA thriller.  

Writing: *****  Barry Lyga perfectly captures what it's like to be inside Jazz's head.  Jazz's thoughts and narration are interrupted on a regular basis with little "insights" from Billy Dent.  It gives a creepy sense of how much Jazz's brain has been messed with and how many things he wishes he didn't know.

Other than that, the narration mostly let the story tell itself.  Nothing distracted me from the the plot itself, and I don't remember coming across any awkward phrasing or typos.

Likes: I just watched a TED talk for my psychology class about the brains of serial killers.  It would've been interesting on its own, but the fact that I'd just finished this book made it even better.

Also, this quote from The Last Guardian just came to mind, and I think it's appropriate for this book (the boy in question being Artemis Fowl): “Either that boy is the sanest creature on Earth...or he is so disturbed that our tests cannot even begin to scratch the surface.”

Not-so-great: "To a killer's eye, the smallish frame and lack of obvious strength would have been attractive.... According to the report, Jane Doe stood no more than five foot one...a killer's dream victim."  I'm 5'1" and have no obvious physical strength.  Well, that's lovely.  I can never un-know that I'm a serial killer's dream victim.

Also, if you and your friend find a gold ring (with an inscription on it) in a stream, like Jazz and Howie do, you don't keep it. You take that thing and cast it back into the fiery chasm from whence it came.

Overall:  This book is so, so insane.  I love it.  It's a fascinatingly scary study in character development, with a character that has the potential to become a serial killer.  Jazz's inner conflict is messed up, but it feels so real.  The plot kept me guessing, and the narration perfectly captures what it must be like to be inside Jazz's head.  I Hunt Killers is somehow fascinating and unsettling--no, disturbing--at once.  In an awesome way.

Similar Books: I Hunt Killers is everything I wished Project Cain would have been--they both have similar protagonists dealing with the nature vs. nurture issue as it relates to serial killers.  It also reminded me of Boy Nobody and BZRK (though I'm not sure why that comes to mind).

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