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LizzieBennet

Her Fine Eyes

Caustic reviews of YA books I adore. 

SPOILER ALERT!

I Hunt Killers

I Hunt Killers - Barry Lyga

***Note: this review assumes that you've read the book.***

 

Once again, a book with an excellent premise and an imperfect follow-through.

 

Jazz (Jasper) is the son of the most notorious serial killer in the world, Billy Dent, aka The Artist. Billy was arrested four years ago and is in jail for consecutive life terms, but Jazz is haunted by his childhood: Billy tried to groom him to become a serial killer, teaching him the trade, and making him watch--and Jazz assumes do, but he has an incomplete memory--horrific acts of violence and mutilation. Jazz is still in high school, but takes care of his demented, angry grandmother (Billy's mother), propping her up for the social worker's visits so that he won't be sent out of town to his aunt's (Billy's sister's) house. Jazz tends to drug his volatile grandma with Benadryl and tranquilizers when she becomes inconvenient, and it's not clear to me whether we're supposed to feel sympathetic because she's truly horrible, or whether it's a subtle play on Jazz's inhumanity. But I digress. A copycat killer pops up in the tiny town, and begins to recreate Billy's kills in a methodical way. Jazz is obsessed with helping the police figure out who the killer is, which tends to get his best friend, Howie (a hemophiliac), and to some extent his girlfriend, Connie, in trouble, too. (Connie is black because Jazz believes that he wasn't brainwashed into wanting to kill black women since they weren't his dad's "type").

 

The identity of the killer felt sort of...unimportant in this thriller, taking some of the thrill away, even though uncovering him is Jazz's purpose throughout most of the story. And while I know we're supposed to allow ourselves to be transported, there are some plausibility issues: the sheriff accepting Jazz's help (though it's meant to be reluctant), right down to taking him to a fresh crime scene, is particularly hard to swallow. The population of the town is so low, it's hard to believe that victims exist whose hair and eye color, ages, and initials match up with Billy's original victims...and that Jazz would know one of them.

 

There is a build-up to Jazz's visit with his father in jail--Jazz has sworn never to see him but thinks he may have information that will help crack the case. And while the visit is slightly chilling, the actual information that comes of it is useless to the plot. Lyga wants us to believe it's useful, though, so he tells us it is. (It isn't. It's the "insight" that the killer will not slavishly match his next victim's profession to Billy's corresponding victim, but will feel free to approximate. Jazz already knew that from Ginnie's death.)

 

The writing is workmanlike, which is fine for the subject matter, but the repetition began to be too much. How many times must we hear that Connie is "safe" from him, that Connie is someone he could have sex with without hurting her? A thousand, if I recall correctly. Jazz's internal mantra "People matter, people are real," and his constant verbal struggle with "Am I evil? Am I a killer?" were heavy-handed and began to feel like sloppy editing. Lyga was much more successful when he simply showed Jazz doing something cold-hearted, or struggling with empathy (even then, Lyga couldn't resist commentary--or didn't trust his reader to see it without pointing it out). But in fact, that's the most interesting angle on this sort of story: in the broad range of human behavior and feelings, where do we draw the line between humanity and inhumanity? There was no subtle exploration of this theme, just Jazz's teen-like angst, and a cast of unhelpful side characters who were either good or evil.

 

And there was no reason for the book not to wrap itself up. We have no time to study the real killer in the book or come to a satisfying conclusion about Jazz's evolving ethics because, poof, Billy has broken out of prison TO BE CONTINUED.