I Hunt Killers

I recently found out that Barry Lyga, author of Archvillain (a middle-grade novel series) and Mangaman, among many other titles, has written a trilogy of young adult novels about the son of a serial killer.

I sampled the first, I Hunt Killers. Although a bit outrĂ© in premise, Lyga’s characterization keeps the book readable. Jasper “Jazz” Dent was trained by his father, a now-imprisoned killer responsible for 124 bodies, in the fine arts of murder and hiding the evidence. (Is it common for serial killers to have families? This isn’t the first book I’ve read with that premise; The Naturals had a similar character. Yet the ones we most hear about in the news and popular culture are loners.)

Jazz’s major conflict is whether he’s doomed to follow in his father’s footsteps. He was groomed that way, and he feels the slight call at his worst moments, but his friends keep him grounded. Those are Howie, a hemophiliac, and Connie, his take-no-guff girlfriend. Local sheriff G. William Tanner, who brought down Jazz’s father, also cares about the boy, although he doesn’t want to listen when Jazz insists that the new body found in the small town is the prey of another serial killer.

As Jazz works to convince G. William (while trying not to annoy him so much that he’s banned from the police station or arrested), we get glimpses of the unique fatherly lessons Jazz was subjected to. I believe Lyga’s done his homework on the subject, since many of the details are queasily plausible. The underlying question is that of nature vs. nurture, of whether you’re born broken or made that way (or some of both, as Jazz’s psychopath father was shaped by a repressed, now-crazy mother). Jazz struggles with those who want more from him, who want answers about his father that he doesn’t have, as he works to find who killed the woman whose body is discovered at the start of the novel. He also has to cope with those who blame him for the sins of his father and a notoriety he doesn’t want.

I liked spending time with Jazz, and I worried about him as I read, hoping things turned out for the better. The subject is a genius choice for a book aimed at teens, since everyone struggles with the idea of whether they’ll turn into their parents. In this case, that’s the worst thing imaginable.

The sequel to I Hunt Killers, Game, came out in paperback earlier this summer, while the third in the trilogy, Blood of My Blood, will be out in September. (I recommend not reading the book descriptions, since they reveal points about the previous volumes.) There are also several prequels available as low-priced ebooks:

(The publisher provided a digital review copy.)

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