Friday, 2 August 2013

Dexter the Early Years: I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga Review

Jasper “Jazz” Dent only fears two things – that people will think he’s like his father and that he is. Not unusual for a 17 year old boy, except for the fact that Jazz’s father is Billy Dent, America’s most notorious serial killer, responsible for the gruesome deaths of 184 people. When another serial killer strikes in Jazz’s home town, Jazz, desperate to prove to himself that he’s nothing like his father, decides to put the lessons Billy taught him to good use and volunteers to help the police. However, when the police reject Jazz’s offer, Jazz is left with no option but to hunt the killer himself, with the assistance of his best friend and girlfriend.

Wow!  I didn’t think it possible for there to be a YA book that’s even darker and more disturbing that Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale, but here it is. A serial killer thriller written for teens. The fact that this book hasn’t been banned by those schools and libraries that have tried to ban everything from Goosebumps to Harry Potter can only be explained by the fact that not enough people have read this marvellously warped book yet. However, give it time, and I’m sure it will be – thus, increasing its sales many times over.

I Hunt Killers is like a reverse Dexter targeted at a younger audience (I think. I’m still not certain if the target audience for this book is teens or adults). In the Dexter books and TV series, Dexter is a serial killer who was raised by a cop to have a moral code and an understanding of police technique. In I Hunt Killers, Barry Lyga inverts the Dexter set-up with Jazz, a seemingly normal boy who was raised by a killer to have no moral code at all and an understanding of how to be a successful psychopath. Jazz’s upbringing makes him perfectly suited to two jobs: a serial killer profiler or a serial killer even better than his father was. While other kids his age are trying to decide on which college to go to, Jazz is faced with the decision of which of these career paths to choose – a decision that isn’t as obvious for him as it should be.

For a YA book, I Hunt Killers is surprisingly graphic in its descriptions of Billy and the new killer’s crimes. For the most part, Lyga spares his readers the prospect of reading about the murders as they are being committed, but does let them know, after the event, exactly what has occurred – and some of the killings are particularly nasty. In spite of the fact that most teenagers nowadays have probably seen their fair share of serial killer and horror movies, YA novelists have traditionally held back in their descriptions of violence and murder. Yet, in the context of this novel, breaking with this tradition is 100% necessary. Anything less and the book just wouldn’t have worked. Ironically, pretty much everything else about the book is PG-13. I didn’t notice a single expletive in 362 pages, for example. Does that mean that it’s OK for teens to read about murder victims being nailed to the ceiling but not to encounter an F-bomb?  I’m not really sure.

If I were asked to pick the book most likely to become the next big thing in YA fiction, I Hunt Killers is the book I would choose. It is just as well written, if not better, than most adult serial killer novels, and I far preferred it to Thomas Harris’s similarly themed The Silence of the Lambs and Red Dragon. And clearly, I’m not the only one who feels this way. Within six months of its release, an announcement was made that it is to be turned into a TV series by ABC Family (a subsidiary of Disney – go figure) with Joel Silver producing and Arika Mittman, who has previously worked on Dexter, as writer. The only thing negative I can say about this book is that the ending leaves things open to a sequel (something which I generally hate). However, I’m not going to complain too loudly about that because I can’t wait to read it. Bring on book 2.

Verdict: My nominee for the next big thing in YA fiction – and the next book to make the most banned books list.   

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