Author: Barry Lyga. Release date: 2012. Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 9780316125840.
Annotation: As the only son of one of the world’s most notorious serial killers, Jasper Dent has always been worried that he will follow in his father’s footsteps. Determined to make sure that doesn’t happen, however, Jasper uses the “skills” he learned from his father to try and help solve a recent string of grisly murders in his home town.
Personal thoughts: One of my favorite shows on TV is Dexter, the story of a serial killer who only targets other murderers, so when I read about I Hunt Killers, I was immediately intrigued. The story does have some similarities to the popular Showtime series, but is also creative and unique in its own right. I really love reading young adult novels by male authors, especially when the leading character is also a male. Jazz is very believably and well-written, and I found myself genuinely caring about his inner struggle with his gruesome past as well as his relationships with the people in his life. I did get pretty creeped out at several points in the novel (particularly in one scene involving the family dog…eek!), but I had trouble putting the book down despite these trepidations. I’m really looking forward to seeing where Barry Lyga takes this series and would recommend it to mature teen readers, particularly guys, who want something edgy and entertaining.
Plot summary: Four years ago the world discovered the truth about Jasper “Jazz” Dent’s father, Billy: he was a sociopathic serial killer who had murdered over 120 innocent people in his career. Growing up, Jazz never understood that the “lessons” his father gave him on a daily basis were anything but normal: how to dismember a body, how to avoid leaving evidence, how to choose your victim. Once Billy Dent was caught, however, and the world came to know him as the son of a monster, Jazz began to wonder if his dad had accomplished his goal and groomed him to become a serial killer himself. Now Jazz is seventeen and still living in the small town Lobo’s Nod with his grandma. Jazz is determined to avoid following in his father’s footsteps, so when a string of bizarre murders take place, Jazz decides to use the “talents” his father gave him to help the local sheriff’s office solve the case. Together with his best friend, Howie, and his girlfriend, Connie, Jazz tries to put himself in the killer’s shoes: piecing together who the victims were and why they were chosen. As Jazz becomes more immersed in the case, however, terrifying memories from his childhood begin to resurface, memories that he had locked away, making him realize he might not be so different from his father after all.
Review: Gruesome, creepy but strangely entertaining, this first novel in a new series for teens by veteran author Barry Lyga proves to be as disturbing as it is enjoyable. Squeamish readers be warned: the subject matter of this book is not for the faint of heart. Jazz is the son of a serial killer, one who raped, tortured and brutally murdered his victims in a very sadistic fashion. A lot of the grisly details of these crimes, and more, are included in the story, making it appropriate for a high school audience, but not recommended for younger teens or tweens. In fact, much of the novel is more suitable for a mature reader, from Jazz’s internal struggle over the similarities he observes between himself and his father to the new string of murders that he takes it upon himself to help solve. Jazz might still be in high school, but adults can easily enjoy his efforts to come to terms with his past and the methods he uses to unravel the crimes of a serial killer other than his father. The book is very well-written, with a great deal of character development put into Jazz, his best friend, Howie, girlfriend, Connie, and “dear old dad,” Billy. The story ends on a cliffhanger and is intriguing enough that readers who enjoyed I Hunt Killers will definitely be yearning for the sequel, Game, which is set to be released on April 23, 2013.
Reading level: Grade 9+
Similar titles: Dexter novels by Jeff Lindsay, Rotters by Daniel Kraus, The Sleepwalkers by J. Gabriel Gates.
Themes: Serial killers, murder, death, father/son relationships, mystery.
Awards/Reviews: Top Ten Indie Next List pick, positive reviews from authors Joe Hill, Libba Bray, Cassandra Clare and Holly Black.
Series Information: First book in Jasper Dent series.
- Do you think that Jasper is a sociopath like his father? Why or why not?- Why do you think Howie has remained a friend to Jasper for such a long time?- What do you think was the significance of the severed fingers?- Why do you think G. William didn’t want to believe the murders were being committed by a serial killer?- What do you think was the motive of the Impressionist?- What would you like to see happen in the sequel?