Review: I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

Review: I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

The cover of Barry Lyga's I Hunt Killers asks,

"What If The World's Most Notorious Serial Killer . . . Was Your Dad?"

Told from from the mind of the son of said notorious killer, this book's creepy question hooked me from the first page and held me until the end.

Lyga created a complex character, Jasper known as Jazz by family and friends, whom most of us can relate to. Not because he's the son of a serial killer, but because he struggles with memories of his growing up years.

He tries to understand them and to sort through his memories to know himself for who he is, rather than what others may think he is or who his father tried to craft him into becoming.

A haunting question is seared into his mind by his experiences: Are memories dreams or are they real?

A river of images and thoughts and feeling, dirtied and polluted so that no one could drink from it without gagging... Jazz knew killers. Billy [ Jazz's father] had studied the serial killers of the past the way a painter studies the Renaissance masters. He learned from their mistakes. He obsessed over them. And he passed his knowledge down to his son. Lucky Jazz--those were the things he remembered from his childhood.

Jazz wonders about his lineage. Perhaps, he muses, caring for his grandmother whose mind flits randomly from one thought to another in a crazy zig-zag that often coalesced into cruelty causes Jazz to wonder about his relationship with her.

Maybe in caring for her, he would observe something, learn something about his lineage, something that would give him some sort of insight into his father and his own upbringing. Anything. Something to help him figure out how to avoid a future that, on some days, felt inevitable. A future that ran thick with blood.

Jazz literally means thick with blood: he fears that he could be carrying a murderous gene.  He struggles with menacing and dark memories and questions intensified by a grandmother who's fond of commenting that he's just like his father.

Bodies begin piling up in Jazz's town, murders with the exact M.O. as his father's; for Jazz, the hunt is on.

His father is in solitary confinement. He couldn't possibly be the killer. So who is? Who could know enough about the crimes to create  replicas of the originals as wickedly crafted by the notorious Billy Dent? Using the knowledge imparted to him by his father, Jazz begins his own search for the killer, utilizing his father's insights into a killer's mind to find the copycat.

Extraordinary characters with the wisdom to listen to Jazz's ideas, the town sheriff and Jazz's girlfriend help to unravel the horror that opens before them. The reader experiences the thoughts and memories that surface for Jazz as he works toward solving the case and dealing with the demons planted by his diabolical father.  Jazz goes to the location of the first copycat murder attempting to get into the mind of the killer.

But, unlike the children of alcoholics and the victims of abuse, Jazz had been a master at compartmentalizing . . . He stared into the moonlit murk of the field. The moon was only a tiny bit smaller than it would have been when the killer dumped Jane Doe here. Jazz was seeing the scene the way the  killer had, which was important.
Memories, urges, feelings lurked waiting to take control. Jazz knew they could resurface at any time. His social worker told him these were emergent memories. He determined that they could be leashed, controlled into knowledge that would enable him to solve the  killings therefore finding redemption for himself and justice for the dead.

While following the trail of a homicidal maniac, Jazz struggles toward self-understanding. His girlfriend, Connie, speaks words of wisdom helping him to unravel who he is – separate from his his upbringing.

“He made me what I am, “ Jazz said. “Bad and good alike. You can't deny that, Con.

Expertly folded within this tale of murder and a son's sorrow, words of wisdom applicable to all of us who have wrestled with the darker memories of our upbringing, grace what would otherwise have been a dark and troublesome read.  Jazz's memories disturbed and fascinated me. To imagine a parent who would subject a child to the horrors that Jazz lived with as a daily reality brings a shudder to my shoulders and to my soul. 

Regardless of the deaths and the horrific memories Jazz carries with him, I Hunt Killers is a superbly written book.

The monster father, the troubled son, the good cop and wise girlfriend make for complex characters and a fascinating read. It is a dark novel, yet hope, love and determination to do what is right make what could be a depressing book, a hopeful one. I highly recommend  Barry Lyga's I Hunt Killers. But, I do so with the caution that it is not a comfortable book. It will lead you through perilous times and frightening situations.

I Hunt Killers does not end wrapped up in a tidy bow.

It closes with uncertainty and unresolved issues. Hopefully, they will be resolved in the next novel, Game, which is out today (though I hear it has a major cliffhanger). I will purchase it as soon as it's available, fully expecting a late night reading marathon.

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