Serial killers: they’re pinnacles of murder mysteries and most of the time becoming icons in both literature and film such as Hannibal Lecter from The Silence of the Lambs. When it comes to young adult fiction however, serial killer characters themselves can usually be hit or miss. it’s not that the book may be bad, but the big reveal can either be disappointing or the idea not clever enough for its own good.
It’s one thing to have a good idea for story, but another to have a good character.
Not too long ago, I remember watching this random episode of FOX’s TV show The Following, staring Kevin Bacon as Detective Ryan Hardy. In the episode, Ryan Hardy needed to find a serial killer who literally hunted his victims like animals, either butchering them or catching them bear traps deep in the woods. The reason I bring this up is because the killer involved his young son in his murders, from cleaning his blades to witnessing the acts, and it made me wonder what went through the kid’s head in those moments.
Would he keep his father’s beliefs? Abandon them when his father is put behind
bars? Or will the apple fall near the tree? Years later, I’m beginning to believe that God answered my question with Barry Lyga’s “I Hunt Killers”.
Jasper “Jazz” Dent is the son of Billy Dent, the world’s most notorious serial killer, a murderer whose gone by the names ‘. Four years after his father’s capture, Jazz wants to live a normal life with his hemophiliac best friend Howie, and his girlfriend Connie. However, reality such as constant news reporters and paparazzi invade his life, and life becomes more complicated and deadly when bodies start piling up again.
The name of the killer: The Impressionist. The catch: they’re nearly identical the killings Billy Dent did. Now, with suspicions turned toward the son of America’s most infamous killer, Jazz is tasked into a mystery of finding out the truth. Using everything his father taught him, on evidence, emotions and the mindset of a killer, Jazz intends to find the real murderer and redeem his name.
I expected this to be a rather mundane novel plotted with a few scares and a generic mystery for the average teenager yearning for some blood and descriptions of gore. But instead I was taken aback by not only how intense, funny, and suspenseful it is, but how unbelievably well-developed and identifiable the main characters are.
Jazz Dent is a really well-written protagonist for a novel such as this. While he does act like the average detective you see in noir films, what makes him stand out his being a teenager, the unfortunate luck of his birth parents, and how broken but likeable he is. One clever thing about Jazz is that he knows how a killer thinks and operates, a quality that provides us an interesting view as to what his father (a man so smart he made two psychiatrists have nervous breakdowns) taught him growing up.
Imagine waking up every day and facing the reality Jazz faces, with all the teachings of how to kill ingrained in your head like a daily lecture, imagining how you could get away with murdering any one of your classmates without even trying, and feeling responsible
for not doing a thing for your father’s victims. Jazz must go through all of that every day and pretend to live a normal life like any other teenage boy. Jazz is very complex, trying to live a normal life with his grandmother while everyone believes he’ll continue Billy’s legacy.
You just feel sorry for this kid, but also root for him when he does everything to resist the mindset his father game him since a kid. What makes him likeable is how he knows how messed up he is and how he does everything in his power to keep himself from literally falling into the family business. Jazz is, in some respects, kind of like a teenage Bruce Wayne: he could become a criminal if he wanted to, but will do whatever it takes to do what’s right and not cross that line.
The other characters are likeable and really identifiable too. I love Jazz’s girlfriend named Connie, who serves as a supportive girl who loves him to death (no pun intended), and his inappropriate but loyal best friend Howie, who happens to be both hemophiliac and a hilarious character to join with you in a murder mystery. We also have the local sheriff who helps/disciplines Jazz and his friends when they interfere with the case, Jazz’s half-racist, half-senile grandmother, and the manipulative, psychotically charismatic psychopath himself: Billy Dent.
Good Lord, imagine if he and the Commandant from “An Ember in the Ashes” teamed up; that’d be the ultimate evil team-up.
And as this Impressionist continues with the murders, “I Hunt Killers” brings the reader to an intense end. Humorously demented, dark yet subtle, written dramatic yet laidback, riddled with deep character and mysterious plot, Barry Lyga gives us the beginning of a trilogy (as well as four short prequels) that leaves you hungry for more.
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