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Are Killers Born or Made?

TITLE: I Hunt Killers

AUTHOR: Barry Lyga

LENGTH: 368 pages

PUBLISHER: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

SUMMARY: (via amazon.com) What if the world’s worst serial killer…was your dad?

Jasper (Jazz) Dent is a likable teenager. A charmer, one might say.
 
But he’s also the son of the world’s most infamous serial killer, and for Dear Old Dad, Take Your Son to Work Day was year-round. Jazz has witnessed crime scenes the way cops wish they could–from the criminal’s point of view.
 
And now bodies are piling up in Lobo’s Nod.
 
In an effort to clear his name, Jazz joins the police in a hunt for a new serial killer. But Jazz has a secret–could he be more like his father than anyone knows?

REVIEW: I was intrigued by the premise of I Hunt Killers. What would it be like to be raised by a serial killer? World recognized serial killer Billy Dent’s son Jasper is not even sure of the long-term effects of Billy’s parenting. As Lyga points out in the book, some serial killers lead normal lives and their loved ones and families have no idea the horrid things killers do in their alternate realities. This book combines that brutal, alternate reality with Jasper’s childhood interactions with his father. The dichotomy of Jasper’s memories of Billy is painful. Jasper desperately wants to despise his father and everything that Billy Dent stood for. At the same time, Jasper aches to remember some shred of humanity in his father that might have emerged in a moment they shared. It is chilling to watch the master manipulation played out between, not a father and a son, but a sociopath and his “trainee”. As Jasper continues to flash in and out of memories of his childhood with Billy, readers realize that Billy had no real paternal feelings and viewed Jasper as nothing more than a captive audience and a potential successor to Billy’s rampage.

This is a book of dichotomies. Howie’s physical weakness is contrasted with his mental acuity. Connie’s beauty and fragility reside within a strong, vital woman who makes her own choices. Gramma Dent’s insanity coexists with a strong protective instinct for her family. Jasper is written as a realistic teenage boy with the typical identity issues that are now exacerbated by the emotional abuse and psychological manipulation Jasper has been through during his formative years. Jasper’s very real worry is that all of Billy’s life-lessons will have actually turned him into his father’s protégé. It seems that all around Jasper are convinced of his innocence and goodness and the only person still questioning his “innocence” is Jasper himself.

Now Jasper is confronted with his father’s crimes all over again as a copycat killer replicates Billy Dent’s kills. Jasper is able to use his uniquely intimate knowledge of Dent’s crimes to assist the police. The conflict of discovering the identity of the copycat killer is shadowed throughout the story with Jasper’s struggle to convince himself that Billy’s evil does not live within him. The emotional distance Billy maintains from his son and from all normal emotional bonds one develops in life, is starkly contrasted by the over-emotional way in which Jasper reacts to his own life. Ultimately, Jasper has to face his biggest fear – his father – in order to definitively recognize himself as his own man rather than Billy’s son. The largest shift in the book takes place internally and leaves readers pondering the age-old question of nature vs. nurture.

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