In the small town of Lobo’s Nod, sixteen-year-old Jasper “Jazz” Dent is notorious. His father is one of the most prolific serial killers in history. Accumulating 123 124 kills to his name before he was caught by the local Sheriff Tanner, he left a son scarred by witnessing his crimes and brainwashed by his sociopathic beliefs. Looking at Jasper however, there’s no way of knowing that. Affectionately known as Jazz by his closest, hemophiliac friend Howie and his tough-loving black girlfriend Connie, Jazz has a magnetic personality that is extremely likable. As only they would know, Jazz also has an unusual interest in murder scenes with a knack for investigative work and an uncanny but understandable ability to get inside the head of a serial killer. So when it appears that the newest murder in Lobo’s Nod is not a one-off Jazz works relentlessly to help predict who and when the killer will strike again, much to the chagrin of Sheriff Tanner, whose become Jazz’s mentor since his father’s arrest. But handling dead bodies and getting dangerously hot on the killer’s heels brings Jazz’s already troubling doubts to the surface: is his own destiny as a serial killer-in-training inevitable?
My innocent childhood fascination with serial killers may have had a short life but my fanaticism of the Showtime TV series about serial killer-with-a-heart Dexter has only increased with each season. As is true in Dexter (though Dexter and Jazz are very different characters), the skillful characterization is what makes these stories work. A realistic yet sympathetic depiction is crucial to loving the main character and – let’s face it – there must be adoration to balance out the violence and gore that will inevitably surround them. Jazz may have inherited some of his father’s conning skills, which he frequently uses both deliberately and unconsciously, but his charm can’t always be faulted. Serial killer in the making or not, I was squarely on his side from the beginning. Though Jazz’s sociopathic leanings are visibly present, his humanity is an inseparable, integral part of his identity and holds equal weight in his thought process. Barry Lyga doesn’t sugar coat the complex, at times contradictory thoughts warring in Jazz, nor does he shy away from disclosing some of the more disturbing but YA appropriate graphic details. I loved the nuance and care taken in portraying Jazz, as well as the whodunit aspect of the murder mystery, where everyone is suspect. Thrilling, creepy, and unpredictable, I could not put I Hunt Killers down. Though it would’ve worked well as a standalone, I’m positively thrumming in anticipation of the sequel.