As the teenage son of Billy Dent, the most notorious serial killer of the 21st century, Jazz feels constantly under scrutiny. It’s only a matter of time, he imagines people thinking, before Jazz turns out just like his father. It doesn’t help that before Billy was imprisoned, he trained Jazz to join him in killing. As Jazz observes, “For Dear Old Dad, Take Your Son to Work Day was year-round.” [p.11] Jazz likes to believe that even if his father hadn’t been imprisoned, he would have been able to shake off his father’s influence anyway, but a part of him can’t help but notice how easy it would be to knock a cop unconscious. A part of him understands that a killer had removed his victim’s fingers not just for trophies, but to symbolically give the finger to the police. Despite his best efforts, Jazz had indeed absorbed his father’s lessons, and would make a great serial killer.
Barry Lyga’s I Hunt Killers has an incredibly audacious premise. As a mystery and thriller aficionado, I’ve read quite a few serial killer stories, and the Dexter Morgan character is utterly compelling. But to explore the potential of a teenage boy to be a serial killer — and more importantly, to have that boy not be a psychopath, but rather someone who is fighting desperately to avoid what he fears is his destiny.
In his quest not to be his father, Jazz is determined to use his father’s training to hunt down a serial killer currently terrorizing his neighbourhood. In doing so, he is faced with how much he really has learned about being a successful serial killer. This is dark and twisty territory, the kind that in an Ian Rankin, Stuart MacBride or Val McDermid novel would probably have the hero drinking or doping heavily. Lyga keeps it PG-13, with Jazz being more like a tortured superhero than a truly broken man, but kudos to the author for not shrinking back from the darkness in Jazz’s psyche. The mystery itself is puzzling enough, but Jazz’s relationship with his father is just as complex and frightening as you might imagine it would be in real life. At times, Jazz seems much more mature than a teenager, but then with a childhood like his, it’s certainly understandable.
I Hunt Killers is a daring, complex, disturbing novel. Lyga pulls it off with well-paced plotting, fascinating characterization and pure guts. The ending felt a bit too superhero serial, dialling back a notch on the disturbing possibilities with a fairly standard promise of a new adventure. Still, after the rest of the story, I have no doubt Lyga will pull it off again with the next books in the series.
Finally, the hardcover edition has probably one of my favourite book designs from last year. Kudos to jacket and book designer Alison Impey. The experience of opening the dust jacket to realize what lay beneath is an apt introduction to the impact of the novel itself. Striking, horrific and memorable, with the rather audacious, almost defiant title I Hunt Killers, this book draws you in even before you turn the page, and it simply refuses to let go.
Thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.