My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Dexter for YA readers
The YA book world was all a-buzz last year with the release of Barry Lyga’s “I Hunt Killers” (Little, Brown and Company, 2012), the story of Jasper “Jazz” Dent, a charming and handsome teenager boy who also happens to be the son of the most notorious serial killer of the 21st century. Billy Dent, or “Dear old Dad,” claimed 123 (or 124, depending on how you counted) victims, and was determined that his son should take over the family business. Accordingly, Take Your Son To Work Day was year-round in the Dent household.
That all ended the year Jazz turned 13, when Dear Old Dad got sloppy and violated his own rule, “Don’t crap where you eat,” and killed too close to home. That got him sent away for 32 consecutive life sentences. “I Hunt Killers” opens four years down the road; Jazz is 17 years old, a good kid with a girl friend and best friend who don’t care that his dad is Billy Dent. When the bodies begin piling up in his small town of Lobo’s Nod, he convinces the local police force to allow him to help find the serial killer. Because, after all, he knows how serial killers think—and he’s afraid of only two things: “One of them was that people thought his upbringing meant that he was cursed by nature, nurture, and predestination to be a serial killer like his father. The second thing…was that they were right.”
“I Hunt Killers” has been billed as Dexter for YA, and rightly so. It is gruesome and shocking—Lyga does not shy away from the brutal nature of serial killings. It is also surprisingly funny in many places, thanks to his wisecracking best friend, Howie, a tall, skinny wisecracking type-A hemophiliac who bleeds “if you [look] at him too hard,” and his grandmother, who is “hateful, spiteful, and crazier than a wind sock in a tornado.”
What sets “I Hunt Killers” apart from other mystery/thrillers is Jazz’s incredibly complex character. His entire being—even down to his choice of girlfriends—centers around resisting those impulses he’d been brainwashed to feel.
If you enjoyed “I Hunt Killers” and can handle a fair amount of gore, you’ll reach for this year’s sequel, “Game” (Little, Brown and Company, 2013). When a desperate New York City detective comes knocking on Jazz’s door asking for help in catching a new serial killer, Jazz can’t refuse. He and his girlfriend Connie hop on a plane to the Big Apple and get swept up in a killer’s murderous game…while Jazz’s father watches—and waits. The sequel was every bit as good as the second, although the cliffhanger ending will have many readers either frustrated or chomping at the bit for the next installment in the Jasper Dent series.
Sara Latta is a science writer and author of 18 books for children and young adults. You can learn more about her work and link to past reviews at http://www.saralatta.com.
This review originally appeared in the Sunday, August 11, 2013 edition of The News-Gazette.
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