Book Review: I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga
At some point in our life most of us have had a parent hold our hand as they helped us learn to use a knife by guiding it through an apple or a freshly baked loaf of bread. That’s not how it happened with Jazz. There was no freshly baked loaf of bread. But there was a knife. And a hand guiding his . . . but when and where?
Jazz is the son of the world’s most notorious serial killer. His father, Dear Old Dad, killed over 100 people and is serving over 30 consecutive life terms in prison. Jazz knows the details of far too many of those murders because Dear Old Dad was grooming Jazz to excel in the family business. Every day is a war inside Jazz as he struggles with who he is and how he was raised: Does he have a choice in following Dear Old Dad’s footsteps? If Jazz uses what he knows to hunt serial killers, maybe he can keep himself from being one.
First lines: It was a beautiful day. It was a beautiful field. Except for the body.
When a dead body is found, Jazz is staking out the crime scene and his superior knowledge of all things serial killer lead him to one conclusion – there is a new serial killer on the loose. Soon it is clear that this serial killer is copying Dear Old Dad’s killing spree. This new serial killer is The Impressionist. But is it Jazz? Everyone in town is certainly going to think so; who knew more than Jazz about those crimes?
In a thrilling game of cat and mouse, Jazz works with his best friend Howie (who is inconveniently a type-A hemophiliac, likely to burst out bleeding at the most inconvenient times and as Jazz knows, blood evidence is hard to hide) and the local sheriff, G. William (the man who finally caught Dear Old Dad) to try and stay one step ahead of The Impressionist. They have to take what they know about the victims to try and guess who the next one will be and be there first; failure means that another body is found.
I Hunt Killers is a stunning edge of your seat thriller. The war inside Jazz is fully developed, nuanced and completely believable. There are tense moments where one wrong step seems like Jazz will indeed become Dear Old Dad. But in those moments Jazz fights and fights hard to forge his own path. This is the genius of Lyga; he takes the typical teenage question of identity and puts the edgiest twist on it possible. Jazz isn’t just fighting to find himself, he is fighting not to be a monster. That Jazz is indeed a charmer and he will have you rooting for him every step of the way.
The supporting cast of characters in Jazz’s life are richly developed and add depth to Jazz. Because they believe in and root for him, the reader does also. Of course, some of the other characters ooze menace to such a degree that shivers will run up your spine. Dear Old Dad is a character study in sociopathology and manipulations; this is a man you wouldn’t want to meet in your darkest dreams.
It is hard to have a story with serial killers without there being some difficult and mature conversations, and they are here. This is without a doubt a read for more sophisticated and mature teen readers. Fans of CSI and Criminal Minds will be begging for this book yesterday. I think it would make an interesting discussion along with Tenderness by Robert Cormier, We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver (technically an adult book), and Acceleration by Graham McNamee.
The twist near the end will have us all clamoring for the next book so we can read more of Jazz’s story and see who he becomes. Highly recommended. This is one edgy, thrilling read that readers will be talking about. Jazz is a character that will stay with you.
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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