A review of I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

Whoa. Just whoa. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t as awesome as this.

It was the cover that first got my attention.

It was the cover that first got my attention.

Plot:  17-year-old Jazz was raised by his father, the world’s most notorious serial killer. All his life, Jazz has been groomed to walk in his father’s footsteps and be the best killer in history. Now he’s offering his first-hand experience to the local authorities to help them catch a new serial killer. They turn him down but he won’t take no for an answer.

At first sniff, this book didn’t look like my cup o’ tea, but it was reviewed positively by one of my favorites, Holly Black, and I decided to give it a chance. Boy am I glad I did!

This is one of the most character-driven thrillers I’ve ever read. Yes, the action is non-stop (especially toward the end, hoo boy), but the most interesting action happens in Jazz’s head. He walks the line between safety and danger, between good buy and really bad guy, with very deliberate steps. Although he is constantly on the edge, I was always rooting for him and I knew that he had it in him to be a good person. The line is blurred for him between what was, what is, and what could be. I think his dilemma is best explained by this quote (and this may be the first time I’ve ever quoted a book in a review):
It’s not that I want to or don’t want to. It’s just… I can. I imagine it’s like being a great runner. If you knew you could run really fast, would you? If you were stuck walking somewhere, wouldn’t you want to let loose and run like hell? That’s how I feel.” 

The side characters were excellently drawn and compelling. I have to admit I was worried when a girlfriend was introduced. As a mentor for teen girls, I know that girls are often drawn to dangerous boys with the hope of redeeming them. I shouldn’t have worried. His girlfriend, Connie, is the only teen girl I can imagine who could handle Jazz’s past, present, and personality without total emotional investment. She is independent and strong, without the, “all we need is each other!” tendencies found in so many YA heroines.

His best (and only) friend Howie’s clotting disorder gives him a fragility to balance  Jazz’s wild tendencies. It also gives the reader a few breathless moments! Their dialogue would make John Green nod in approval, and their tattoo exchange is the funniest thing I think I’ve ever read.

Jazz’s grandmother is at once frightening and saddening. We feel for her plight but detest the twisted person that hate has made her.

Billy Dent is a fabulous character. His shadow touches every part of this book although we don’t get to meet him until near the end. And when we do meet him, he is every bit as charming and chilling as we thought he would be. He does not disappoint.

The plot is a roller-coaster ride! There’s a little practice hill at the beginning then a fast climb followed by dips and dives all leading up to a rip-roaring free-fall that kept me reading well past midnight (and this is a girl who works at 6 AM!). And I’ll reiterate- the best part is that Jazz’s introspection was seeded into the plot- not extraneous but integral to the action.

The drawbacks that I see (and the reason this is getting four stars) are the level of violence and a dishonest reaction to it. Yes, a serial killer book is going to be full of gore, and there are a host of things I found disgusting and disturbing, but none were enough to put me off entirely. The one thing I really can’t take, though, is animal cruelty, so I had to skip a good chunk of a chapter. ‘Nuff said.

The dishonest reaction I speak of is not that Jazz is still functionally human after being raised by a monster (that is, after all, the premise of the entire book so I have to accept it), it is in the form of his friends. Neither of them puke, faint, or cry uncontrollably when they see dead bodies (some quite grotesque) for the first time. I can understand Jazz’s clinical indifference- this is how he was raised, after all- but his friends would probably have quite a different reaction.

4 out of 5 stars! Excellent book!

4 thoughts on “A review of I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

  1. Molly says:

    Great review! I loved Connie, too. She was so level headed and composed. This was one of my favorite books from last year, and I’m reading the sequel now, and it’s good, too!

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