Plot: Jazz’s father is the most notorious serial killer in history and though he is behind bars, Jazz cannot forget his lessons or escape his legacy. When people start dying in his small town again, he is worried that people might suspect him but he is even more afraid that he might actually become a killer one day. To prove both the town and his own fears wrong, he decides to use all his knowledge of killing to track down the murderer.
This book is going to give me nightmares for a little while. There are several murders, and they are truly horrific but those weren’t the parts that really got to me. Jazz’s childhood was as bad as they get and Lyga has a gift for revealing the worst parts of it, bit by terrible bit, so that he leaves me trembling: caught between the desperation to know more and the terror of that same knowledge. You couldn’t have torn the book out of my hands.
The obvious comparison is to the TV show Dexter but I don’t think such a comparison does Barry Lyga or Jazz sufficient justice. Both the show and the novel give us a disturbing glimpse into a murder’s mind. But Dexter is a sociopath taught to murder other killers and spare the innocent. He is the lesser of two evils; he only ever pretends to be good. Meanwhile Jazz is an innocent whose morals were twisted by a childhood with a charismatic killer. Jazz struggles to be a good person in spite of his upbringing. He doesn’t always know how to be a good person, or even a normal person, but his constant attempts make him sympathetic as well as fascinating.
Of course, Jazz could not be the person he is without the people around him. His best friend Howie is the perfect counter-point to a boy who knows how to kill people in hundreds of ways: he’s a type-A hemophiliac who bruises if you poke him hard. And yet he bears his condition with humour and helps Jazz on all his crazy adventures (and they have great banter!). His girlfriend Connie is strong and gutsy but most of all, she believes in Jazz. She helps keep him on the right path. His father is a monster, his grandmother is crazy, racist and senile and most people don’t trust him but Howie, Connie and the sheriff, G. William Tanner, help him though all his doubts and dangers.
I started this novel thinking that it was a stand-alone. It could have easily been: it’s an exciting thriller with a mystery that kept me guessing (like Jazz, I thought I had it all figured out but Lyga proved me wrong). But I was wrong. By the end the stakes have been raised and an even worse killer is on the loose. Jazz’s hunt for killers has only begun. I for one can’t wait for the next volume.