Like Father, Like Son?: I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

I Hunt Killers by Barry Lygai hunt killers

Source: local library

Published: April 3rd 2012 by Little, Brown and Company

Synopsis: 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?

My thoughts:

First off, I feel it’s important to disclose that my favorite television show of all time is Dexter. I was fairly certain I’d like this book to begin with, and it did not disappoint. Excellent character development, exciting mystery, mature (emotionally, not physically) teen romance, and fabulous writing…there’s not much more I look for in my contemporary YA. It’s certainly convinced me to check out Lyga’s other novels, particularly Boy Toy, because I think he’s a writer who can do justice to the subject matter.

Jazz is not like typical teenagers. Since he was raised by his sociopathic father who taught him how to kill, he’s got some issues. He worries about following in his father’s footsteps because he recognizes how effective his powers of manipulation are and how well trained he is in the art of killing. He also worries about taking care of his crazy grandma and his best friend, who has a condition that makes him bruise and bleed easy. He’s a complicated guy, and I thought he was compelling from the beginning.

When copycat murders start happening in his sleepy town, Jazz feels compelled the solve the case, but despite his insight into a serial killer’s mind, he is always one step behind the killer. In order to track him down, he must confront the demons of his past. It’s a page-turning, chilling thriller that had me guessing way past the point where I normally solve the mystery on my own.

As interesting as Jazz was, the secondary characters, especially his grandmother, Howie, his best friend, and Connie, his girlfriend, were even more surprisingly well-developed. I was surprised by the complexity of Jazz’s relationship with Connie. They had drama in their relationship, certainly, but it wasn’t the driving force of the story, and there was no artificial angst. Though they struggled with typical issues in teenage relationships, like families that disapproved of an interracial relationship and Jazz’s past, they were trying. They cared for one another.

While this is a violent book—it’s about serial killers so of course, lots of bodies turn up—I was impressed with how Lyga portrayed the violence without resorting to lots of descriptions of gore. We even get in scenes from the killer’s perspective, but instead of lots of slash and blood, the horror and fear is conveyed through the lack of description, and it is much more emotional for it.

“Helen, I have to be honest with you now. This is going to hurt. It’s going to hurt a lot.”

She went ahead and screamed. True to his word, he didn’t care at all.

Lyga doesn’t have to show how wicked and evil the killer is by what he does, but instead shows us what he doesn’t do.

Jazz’s dreams, which are at one point portrayed almost as poetry, reveal great insight into his character and are ultimately what I think propels this story into a series. This story is as much about Jazz finding out who he is and how is past has shaped him but doesn’t have to define him as it is about the hunt for a serial killer, and that’s what makes it classic YA. Jazz isn’t done with this journey at the end of the book. He may have helped find the killer, but he hasn’t confronted all the demons from his past. His story is one I anxiously await to be continued.

While I found it unbelievable that even a small town sheriff would give a teenager access to the case like Jazz had, it didn’t ruin the story for me. I did take one issue with a factual error on Lyga’s part—women cannot join a Masonic lodge—and given how accurately he conveyed the mind of a serial killer, this mistake stood out.

This is a great book for readers looking for a mystery or thriller with no paranormal aspects who don’t want romance at the forefront of the story.

Second opinions:

Kimberly at Stacked: “I Hunt Killers does what mysteries do best at the end: wrap up the current mystery and present us with other character-centric mysteries to solve in forthcoming novels.”

Heidi at Bunbury in the Stacks: “It was entirely character driven, while simultaneously having a fast-paced and completely engrossing plot.”

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12 thoughts on “Like Father, Like Son?: I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

  1. Bravo! *claps*

    I enjoyed I Hunt Killers as well! I appreciated Jazz and Connie’s relationship and may have slightly liked Connie even more than Jazz. She has an backbone, but not so overt that it looks like she’s out to prove something.

    “I found it unbelievable that even a small town sheriff would give a teenager access to the case like Jazz had”
    I had the same problem as well and kept thinking Jazz was just too nosy.

    “women cannot join a Masonic lodge”
    I didn’t even know that. shame on me.

    I think there needs to be more thrillers in the YA genre, and I Hunt Killers does it well. I’ve heard some people call it too “bloody.” But really? this is nothing!
    If you like Dexter and I Hunt Killers, I think you might like Dan Wells’s John Cleaver series as well. It is classified as an adult novel (perhaps due to gore? but its very mild stuff,) but the protagonist is a schizophrenic teenager being conflicted with serial killer notions.

    1. I don’t think that it was too “bloody” but there was a lot of darkness in the book. The discussion of sexual violence was pretty frank. But most of the creepiness was psychological, rather than gory. Thanks for the tip on the John Cleaver series…I probably won’t get around to reading it right away, but I might suggest it to mature teens looking for more thrillers–I do hope we continue to get great new YA thrillers too though!

  2. I love this review, Molly! You’ve described this book so perfectly. I LOVE the relationships in this one, particularly with Howie and Connie. It certainly requires some suspension of disbelief, but I’m still so impressed with how Lyga was able to create a thriller with such in depth characters and surprising lack of gore.

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