Title: I Hunt Killers
Author: Barry Lyga
Rating: 5/5 Stars
For some reason, I ended up being completely surprised by this book. I knew it was going to be a good book even before I started it – the raving reviews had promised that much – but I guess I simply didn’t expect it to be the psychological thriller it ended up being. I Hunt Killers is a story that sucks you in, keeps you captivated, and makes you empathize with its tortured protagonist before you even realize you’ve given your heart away to him.
I think everyone is familiar with the plot of this story by now – Jasper Dent, son of notorious serial killer Billy Dent, has never been able to forget his brainwashed childhood or the fact that he could become just like his father if he tried. Thus, when he is given the opportunity to prove himself as different by solving a new series of murders that plague his small town, he’s willing to do everything he can to crack the case. Yet, what makes this murder mystery different from the norm is the fact that Barry Lyga forces us, as the reader, to truly reflect and think back on an age old question about what truly wins out in the end: nature vs. nurture?
I don’t think I can even begin to explain how impressed I am by this story. Lyga writes in a manner that mixes light with dark, making this novel intensely scary and ridiculously funny at the same time. Jasper’s narration is strong, raw, brutal, and honest in a way that most male protagonist’s are, but underneath that is a sharp taste of confusion, pain, and years of pent-up anger. Although this story’s main focus seems to be a murder mystery like any other, what it truly is about is a tortured character – a mere boy – struggling to find who he is amongst memories of who he can become.
I found Jasper’s perspective to be exceedingly chilling and haunting at some parts, yet I could not help but sympathize with him. Jasper knows everything there is to know about serial killing, he knows all the ways in which his father committed each murder, and his father’s charm that enabled him to trick others has worked in Jasper’s favor multiple times as well. Jasper doesn’t know whether or not he thirsts for death like his father, he doesn’t know whether his intentions are good or bad, and ultimately, he cannot figure his own self out. At its core, Lyga is writing about any confused teenage boy, but by making Jasper have a completely unique past, he manages to make this novel both original and exceedingly brilliant in its genre of work. Jasper’s development and growth is slow – so slow in fact that you still don’t know if he has figured himself out by the end of the novel – but you do know that he has changed, has gained confidence, and is ready to face his fears.
One aspect of this story that I loved and that very few reviewers have mentioned are Jasper’s friends. Howie, his best friend, is mainly there to prove a comic relief every now and then, but he also contributes immensely to Jasper’s internal growth, making him a person wholly different from his father. Yet, what really makes Jasper click is his girlfriend Connie. I’m glad that Lyga, instead of trying to balance a mystery side-by-side with a love story like many authors have attempted to do in the past, simply throws us into the midst of a relationship. Romance is not a large part of this novel, but Jasper’s interactions with Connie have depth. I loved seeing how not only their relationship played out, but also how their discussions gave rise to Jasper’s will to change and his determination to be a better person.
Finally though, this all brings us back to the question of nature vs. nurture. Jasper’s childhood has honed and trained him into becoming the perfect serial killer, but Jasper has traces of his mother in him too. Furthermore, after his father’s jail sentence, he has been closest to the cop who caught him – another relationship which I absolutely adored – and Howie and Connie too have allowed for Jasper’s true nature to win out against nurture. Jasper’s experiences, past, and memories keep propelling him to fall back on his childhood, but it is his will and the people around him who keep him anchored to sanity.
I Hunt Killers is a psychological thriller like no other. It takes on a unique look at serial killers and the psychological mindset behind not only their murders, but the lives of the people they interact with and affect as well. Jasper’s narration is moving, his story chilling, and his growth rewarding. Each and every relationship in this novel contained depth beyond imagination, filled with witty dialogue, realistic schemes, and heart-warming discussions. I am definitely going to be keeping my eyes peeled for the sequel and if Lyga’s other novels are anything like this one, you can be sure I’m planning to check them out.