August 04, 2012

The Sins of The Father (Review: I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga)

I Hunt Killers
Barry Lyga
Bantam Press 2012


Some parents want their kids to be doctors and lawyers, some raise their offspring to be artists and musicians, some help their kids to make their own choices and some take it a step too far, hoisting their own careers and ambitions onto their children. Such is the case with Dear Old Dad (AKA Billy Dent, AKA The Artist) who redefines the term pushy parent. Except that Dear Old Dad isn’t a doctor, nor a lawyer, nor an artist (at least, not a conventional one) – he’s a serial killer.  Actually, he’s pretty much the Grand Poo-bah of serial killers and until the day he was finally caught he dedicated his down time to training his son Jasper in the fine art of murder. Four years after Billy’s imprisonment, Jazz is just about getting by – he has a roof over his head, a loyal best buddy and an understanding girlfriend – but he’s plagued by the knowledge that Billy instilled in him and terrified that he might end up being just like Dear Old Dad. When bodies start appearing that hold eerie similarities to those found in the not so distant past, Jazz frantically applies the knowledge he has to the information in front of him because the only way to prove he’s not taking up the family career is to hunt those already in it.

Jasper Dent is pretty screwed up. His ability to seem A-OK gets him through the day but haunts him at night as he wonders if this very ability to charm and manipulate situations points to him being a sociopath. In fact, Jazz spends much of his time suspecting that his behaviour is sociopathic and that the images put in his head by Dear Old Dad are leading him inevitably to a life of killing. He really does have a lot of information at his fingertips and as he starts to use this to help the police catch a new killer it becomes clear that Jazz might be conflicted, confused and yes, possibly slightly sociopathic, but he’s also super smart and desperate to prove that he is nothing like his father – even as he secretly suspects he’s no different at all.  What Jazz never really realises is that it’s unlikely that a sociopath would care that they were a sociopath.  The real risk for Jazz is that his obsession with the past and its impact on his future might tip him into the dark, be it as killer or as
victim.

Like all good investigators/potential serial killers, Jazz is accompanied by a loyal sidekick, Howie. Howie is a particularly lovely figure with his long limbs and potentially deathly nose-bleeds. His willingness to accompany Jazz on some pretty crazy expeditions is heartening, especially when much of what they get up to is dangerous, particularly to a character suffering from haemophilia. Jasper’s girlfriend Connie is also very well written. Clearly devoted to Jasper she doesn’t cut him any slack when he starts going off the deep end. In fact both Howie and Connie have a deep seated faith in Jazz that seems often to be all that keeps him from going mad – yet he cannot see that his strong friendships with them (particularly with slightly broken-bird Howie) say more about him than his relationship with his father. Equally, Jazz’s interactions with G. William, the Sheriff that finally caught his father, say much about both characters and bring warmth to what is essentially an extremely dark story.

The writing in I Hunt Killers is superb. Stark and uncompromising, Lyga has written a story unlike anything else available on the YA shelves right now. Chief of Lyga's achievements is Dear Old Dad himself who, despite being imprisoned, looms large over every page due not only to some exceptionally disturbing memories on Jasper’s part but also to the fact that he seems to be lurking in the crimes of the present as well as those of the past. It is testament to Lyga’s writing and plotting that Billy Dent comes across initially as a bit of a local yokel – a clever move, because as the true extent and detail of his crimes become apparent they imbue I Hunt Killers with a nastiness that is hard to shake off once the book is finished. Certainly there are images that will stay with readers and they’re not pretty ones. I Hunt Killers is a book that is unafraid to peer into the more horrifying corners of the human psyche and is not for the faint hearted. Barry Lyga has created a horror story worthy of the greats in the genre while also undertaking a fascinating and touching tale of a damaged boy’s coming of age. One of the most arresting and original books so far this year and, with a sequel currently in the works, clearly not the last we’ve seen from the new kid on the horror block.


This review was brought to you by Splendibird. I Hunt Killers is available in all good bookstores now.  This book has also been YAcked and you can find out what the lady YAckers thought of it here.

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