As we close in on October 31, AiPT! will be reviewing and recommending various pieces of underappreciated scary media—books, comics, movies, and television—to help keep you terrified and entertained all the way to Halloween.
Okay, so it’s technically called the Jasper Dent series (after the main character). But that title doesn’t do justice to such a grisly and smart trilogy of books.
Unlike the other novels on this list so far, there’s nothing supernatural at play. Just good old fashion serial killings—along with one heck of a messed up protagonist.
I Hunt Killers series by Barry Lyga
Jasper Dent is the son of the world’s most famous serial killer. When his father is finally captured, he is given the chance to lead a somewhat normal life.
But after a childhood spent watching his father slaughter people and evade law enforcement, some troubling family traits are beginning to emerge. He’s way smarter than most folks. He can charm just about anyone. And aside from the few people he genuinely cares for, the rest of the world inspires almost no empathy whatsoever.
Perhaps most troubling of all is his ability to see and think about things like a stone cold killer.
In an effort to stop himself from becoming his father, Jasper decides to lend his unique abilities to the local police department to help catch a new mass murderer. Meanwhile, Jasper’s father sits in jail, patiently waiting for his son to become the man he was destined to be…
This isn’t another kind-hearted/well-meaning sociopath story (ala Dexter). Jasper doesn’t want to be the way he is. He doesn’t relish the lack of emotion and sympathy he feels toward the rest of the world. In fact, he hates it. He’s also smart enough to contemplate the many ways his behavior could be a product of both nurturing and nature.
The horrible things his father made him watch—and sometimes made him do—may have put him on a path that he can’t escape.
While this inner struggle rages, Jasper and his friends become involved in a thrilling serial killer case. Watching Jasper work—whether it’s examining a mutilated body or getting them out of trouble—is both exhilarating and terrifying. Luckily, he’s got a supporting cast that even the emptiest soul in the world couldn’t help but like.
Connie, his girlfriend, is 100% alpha female, countering every one of Jasper’s weaknesses with her own strengths.
Howie, his best friend, is one of the funniest and likable characters I’ve ever read.
Sheriff G. William, the man who caught Jasper’s dad (and rescued him from a life of continued depravity), is as stubborn as he is noble.
Together, they make the most atypical ‘YA’ scoobie gang that you’ve ever seen.
Speaking of ‘YA,’ don’t let that classification fool you. In fact, I’m not really sure it’s correct. Once we get past the first book, things get downright dark and gory. Jasper’s father goes from a Hannibal Lector-esque presence to a full on threat, turning Jasper’s life upside down along with a host of blood-drained corpses.
By the third book, the stakes of The Game have risen to a point that refuses to let you put the books down (No joke—I jumped right from Book 2 to Book 3 without stopping). Whether it’s seeing if a favorite character is about to be sliced open, wondering if Jasper is finally going to give into is sociopathic urges, or learning the horrible history behind his family, the Jasper Dent series is guaranteed to keep you up at night for all the right reasons.
What Doesn’t Work
Not much at all.
I will say that the question of Jasper’s psyche got a little played out by the last book. But in Lyga’s defense, he brings it home with a whopper of a revelation that will make you want to scream and gag at the same time (which sounds really weird, by the way).
Is it Good?
Forget your predetermined roadmap for a serial killer story. The Jasper Dent series will roll it up, douse it in blood, and smack you across the face.
Don’t worry—all the familiar story beats are covered. You still get multiple angles of forensic and psychological analysis. There’s still plenty of murder sequences and crime solving threads to unwind. Rituals, patterns, law enforcement infighting; it’s all there (and incredibly well-written).
But framing it all is an epic family war, the heart of which involves a young man fighting with himself for possession of his own soul.