Tuesday, May 15, 2012

REVIEW: I Hunt Killers (A teenage Dexter Meets Dan Wells's I Am Not a Serial Killer. Enjoyable, but it doesn't really distinguish itself from similar books.)

Lyga, B.  (2012).  I Hunt Killers.  New York:  Little, Brown and Company.

361 pages.

Appetizer:  Jazz Dent is watching the police at the scene of a murder.  He knows it's a serial killer's doing.  He can feel it.

He's practically an expert.  His father is a famous, imprisoned, serial killer, after all.

With the police chief reluctant to admit that there may be another serial killer in the town of Lobo's Nod, Jazz launches his own investigation with his best friend, Howie.  But as they search, Jazz begins to realize that the killer may have a connection to his own past, some of his missing memories and to his childhood with his killer father.

As I made my way through I Hunt Killers, I found that I had to repeatedly fight the desire to have marathon viewings of the TV show Dexter.  I was also struck with the need to reread Dan Well's I Am Not a Serial Killer series.  The similar tensions and plot twists were hard to ignore.

I Hunt Killers does decidedly have a bit more of a YA feel.  Jazz struggles with his own nature, his upbringing and sexual desire.

Jazz is in an established relationship with a girl named Connie.  As I read, I found that I would have preferred to read the story of the two first getting together.  It would have helped the story to feel more YA.  (Of course, I had a similar reaction to Dexter when the first episode revealed he was already in an established relationship with Rita.  I Am Not a Serial Killer, in contrast, does explore that protagonist, John, starting a relationship with his dream girl.  So, I guess it was lose-lose whichever way Lyga wrote it.)

Throughout the story, Lyga had a tendency to avoid sharing information with the reader with sloppy narration during pivotal plot developments like "he told them his idea," as a way to try and maintain some tension and mystery for whatever Jazz, Connie and his best friend Howie were about to do.

I wrote a scene that once during the first semester of my MFA program.  My professor informed me that it was sloppy and I tend to agree.  Lyga used this "and even though Jazz knows something and the majority of the narration is from his perspective, I'm still not going to reveal it to the reader" technique many times.  It was annoying.  But hey, what do I know?  Lyga has published many books and won some awards.  I, decidedly, have not.

Having said that, some aspects of the plot felt forced; as though Jazz were forced to go through the steps on Lyga's outline because they would make for the most dramatic turns as opposed to there being honest character motivation for his choices.  *Spoiler for the final third of the novel* A moment where this impression was particularly strong was Jazz's decision to finally visit his father in prison for the first time.  It felt forced-forced-forced-forced-FORCED.  *End spoiler*

While probably not a book to be used in most classroom, I Hunt Killers does heavily reference the play The Crucible.  As with other books in its sub-genre, it could be used to describe the characteristics of a sociopath.  A fun approach to an already interesting topic in a psychology class.

Dinner Conversation:

"By the time Jazz got to the field outside town, yellow police tape was everywhere, strung from stake to stake in a sort of drunken, off-kilter hexagon." (p. 3)

"It's not that he'd never seen a dead body before.  Or a crime scene.  Jazz had been seeing those for as long as he could remember, thanks to Dear Old Dad.  For Dear Old Dad, Take Your Son to Work Day was year-round.  Jazz had witnessed crime scenes the way the cops wished they could--from the criminal's point of view.
Jazz's dad--William Cornelius "Billy" Dent--was the most notorious serial killer of the twenty-first century.  He'd made his home in sleepy little Lobo's Nod and, for the most part, kept his nose clean while in town, adhering to the old adage "Don't crap where you eat."  But eventually time had caught up with Billy Dent.  Time, and his own uncontrollable urges.  Even though he was a masterful murderer, having killed into the triple digits over the previous twenty-one years, he eventually couldn't help himself.  Two Lobo's Nod bodies later, G. William Tanner tracked Billy down and cuffed him.  It was a sad and ignominious end to Billy Dent's career, caught not by some FBI doctorate with a badge and the might of the federal government behind him, but rather by a local cop with a beer gut and a twang and one decent police car." (pp. 11-12)

"When the original devil couldn't do the crime, who did you look at next?  His son, of course.  If Jazz didn't know for certain that he wasn't involved in this murder, he would have pointed the finger (ha, ha)   at himself.  It made complete sense that the son of the local serial killer would kill someone.  but just because it made sense didn't make the thought any easier to bear." (p. 21)

"People matter.  People are real.  I will never kill, Jazz told himself over and over, his promise to himself.  He had siad it to his father once--just once--and Billy had laughed and said, You go on thinking that way, Jasper.  If that's what it takes to get you through the night, you go on thinking that way.  Billy had been so sure that Jazz would someday go into the family business." (p. 57)

"...Why are you so obsessed with this?"
"I told you yesterday:  I think this is a serial killer."
"So? If it is, the cops will eventually figure it out."
"And a lot of other people might die in the meantime."
"People are dying all over the world.  Right now.  Everywhere.  And you know they're dying; it's totally not theoretical.  So why are you so focused on this totally imaginary, maybe-not-real serial killer?"
Jazz pressed his lips together tightly, as if he could physically prevent himself from speaking.  But some part of him needed to say what came next, and that part overrode the rest of him.
"Because," he said quietly, "if I catch killers, then maybe that means I'm not a killer."  (p. 104)

Tasty Rating:  !!!

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