To be published by Little, Brown BFYR
on April 16, 2013
Source: e-ARC from publisher on NetGalley for possible review. Please see my full FTC disclosure on blog's right sidebar.
Buzzwords: serial killer, turning into your parents, nature vs. nurture
Content: gory murders; not recommended for the very squeamish.
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Summary (adapted from Goodreads:) In an effort to prove murder didn’t run in the family, Jazz, son of notorious serial killer Billy Dent, teamed with the police in the small town of Lobo’s Nod to solve a deadly case. And now, when a determined New York City detective comes knocking on Jazz’s door asking for help, he can’t say no. The Hat-Dog Killer has the Big Apple – and its police force – running scared. So Jazz and his girlfriend, Connie, hop on a plane to the big city and get swept up in a killer’s murderous game.
My take: I have read a LOT of mysteries and thrillers. Thomas Harris, Michael Connelly, Lawrence Block, Dennis Lehane, Laura Lippman, Val McDermid, Tana French and Denise Mina are some of my favorite authors. So I'm always so happy to find YA books in the mystery-suspense sub-genre.
I really enjoyed the first book in the Jasper Dent series, I Hunt Killers. You can read my review here. Though quoting myself is a little strange, I said: "this book is awesome: quirky yet complicated characters, black humor, a page-turning mystery plot, and a fascinating undercurrent of inner conflict."
Basically, I think it's a genius idea to take the son of a notorious serial killer and focus a series of YA books around him. I didn't enjoy Game quite as much as I Hunt Killers and, since I finished reading, have been trying to solve that mystery: what was missing for me in that second book?
One of my favorite aspects of I Hunt Killers was the psychological angst suffered by poor Jazz. Whether serial killers are born or made, Jazz seems screwed either way: he's got the DNA and the environmental influences. His father taught him a lot about the family business, so to speak. In the first book, he's convinced that he might have helped his father kill someone, and in Game, he's still wondering about that. In I Hunt Killers, he was freaking out at the idea of having sex with his girlfriend Connie --as he's convinced that sex and violence are somehow dangerously intertwined in his psyche. In Game, these issues are raised again, but not in a way that sheds much new light on them.
There is one new development, though: Jazz is having memories of someone seductively touching him. In a separate sub-plot, his friend Howie is trying to put the romantic moves on Jazz's adult-aged Aunt Samantha -- Billy Dent's sister and a new character in the series. There was something about the Howie plot juxtaposed with Jazz's flashbacks that creeped me out a bit. (This also may have had to do with the fact that I've also read Lyga's excellent but disturbing Boy Toy, about a young boy who was sexually abused by a female teacher. So as I was reading Game, I spent a lot of time wondering if either Howie's plot or the Jazz-being-touched plot was going to go in that sort of direction. Or if the two were connected somehow.)
I was initially happy that, in Game, the action was moving to New York City, but ended up missing the small town of Lobo's Nod and crotchety sheriff G. William Tanner. In the first book, G. William served as a much-needed father figure to Jazz and also a source of comic relief.
I also wasn't 100% captivated by the "Hat-Dog Killer" case that Jazz is summoned to New York to consult upon. There was a long section of the book that was spent in a nondescript hotel room, going over and over a bunch of murders that had already happened. Despite a lot of gory details, the murders never felt very urgent to me, perhaps because it wasn't really Jazz's job to solve them and he didn't have much of a personal connection to the case. In the first book, the murders are of people Jazz knew.
I think mysteries and thrillers are most compelling when the case feels personal to the investigator, and when the reader feels that inexorable pull as the detective draws ever closer to the killer, and wonders if the tables will turn and the hunter will suddenly become the hunted. I never really felt that pull in Game. Yes, there is a reason for this, and it has to do with the ultimate resolution of the murder case, which is admittedly pretty darn clever. But waiting around for that clever resolution tried my patience just a bit. Even with eyeballs and other body parts being flung around and stuff.
Still, I will definitely read the next book in the Jasper Dent series. There's something about the character of Jazz that really, really intrigues me. In Game, Connie and Howie dig up some clues to Jazz's past and I'm interested to see where those lead. (I'm hoping that will also take the action back to Lobo's Nod.) I'm also hoping that the third book in the series begins to delve deeper into some of the intertwined themes (race; sex and violence; nature and nurture) that these first two books have set up.
If you love thrillers (or shows like Dexter) and have a strong stomach, you should definitely read I Hunt Killers. If you read and enjoyed I Hunt Killers, you should definitely read Game. Even though Game wasn't perfect for me, I'm still a big fan of this series overall.