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Review – Game by Barry Lyga

Game by Barry Lyga

Game (Jasper Dent #2)

By: Barry Lyga

Release Date: April 16, 2013

Rating: 2 Stars

Summary: I Hunt Killers introduced the world to Jazz, the son of history’s most infamous serial killer, Billy Dent.

In an effort to prove murder didn’t run in the family, Jazz 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.



Review:

Imagine you learned everything you know about serial killers from Wikipedia and watching episodes of Criminal Minds. Then tried to write a book about it with a kid in the lead role. Would it be comparable to the many standout crime thrillers that dominate the genre? Unfortunately with Game, I don’t think so.

The problem I have with this is the same problem I had with I Hunt Killers but on a larger scale, psychological and crime thrillers are inherently adult genres; these books try to play with the big boys, but only end up shooting themselves in the foot. It takes a lot of perfectly fine tuned elements, murder, suspense, investigation, dark humor, and of course the psychology of the characters, both investigator and murderer, to make a crime thriller work, and while Barry Lyga certainly does come close in a lot of ways (perhaps closer with I Hunt Killers than Game), close in this case really means not quite there yet and another unenthusiastic ‘eh, I’ve seen better’ to go along with my reaction to the first book.

Let’s start with Jasper Dent. Or, as he is in this book, an unrealistic Gary Stu. It’s an easy mix up, but there’s a difference between crime scene investigation and behavioral analysis. Crime scene investigation looks at the evidence from a particular crime and uses that evidence to determine how a killer committed that particular crime, whereas behavioral analysis studies the criminal mind and tries to understand what drives a killer to commit crimes generally, so as to predict his or her future victims and all that stuff. Now back to Gary Stu alias Jasper “Jazz” Dent – this is a kid who’s brought into the investigation because of his expertise in behavioral analysis, or as the cops put it, he understands serial killers in a way other people don’t because he grew up as the son of one, but when there’s a scene (chapter long no less and smacks of child’s play) of Jazz going through crime scenes and figuring out stuff like how a window was kicked in after a murder because of footprints under the shards of glass, uh, no, that’s crime scene investigation, not behavioral analysis. And just because you grew up as the son of a serial killer doesn’t mean you can freakin’ outstage people who have perfected CSI to a science. Once, maybe, but when this repeats scene after scene of just Jazz picking up forensic evidence the real investigators have missed, sorry, he’s a Gary Stu. Stick to profiling the criminal please.

Then again, there’s not much to profile. What works in most psychological thrillers are two competing psychological profiles in a game of cat and mouse, one the damaged investigator trying to understand the killings through the lens of his trauma, the other the sadistic serial killer, toying with him yes, but also chillingly revealing the depths of his depravity. Jazz, unfortunately, seems to have actually regressed since I Hunt Killers, instead of the whole product of biology and environment thing he had going in the last book, his character this time around is basically ‘I can’t have sex with Connie because that’ll set me off and turn me into a serial killer’ – look dude, not everything is about the sex. On the flip side, I’m even less impressed with the Hat-Dog Killer. I will say the two initial murders and the way they’re written are very clever given what’s revealed about him, but in a successful crime thriller, the killer’s point of view provides a glimpse into his mind, lets the reader build a profile for himself, whereas in Game, Jasper just gives us the profile. That’s no fun. Not to mention how generic the two sentence profile actually is – what about triggers? Victimology? Anything?

My last point might be kind of controversial, but I think it’s still worth bringing up. Mostly, it involves Game’s young adult characters trying to act the same as the adult characters of other books, like Connie doing her little investigation into the murders on the side – for an adult character, it’d be reckless, but for her, it’s just plain stupid – yet at the same time seemingly holding back in other areas. The subject matter of this series is not for the faint of heart, human eyeballs are consumed and people’s intestines are left in KFC buckets, but that said, I still think as I said in my review of I Hunt Killers that the intended young adult audience seems to be accommodated in a way that’s inconsistent, unnecessary, and detracting from the story. Game tries to look tough like the adult crime thrillers it aspires to be, but there’s still one noticeable line it hasn’t crossed – killing off anyone under twenty. I get it, killing off kids, particularly in this day and age, is an extremely politically incorrect thing to do, but is it really that inappropriate when compared to the subject matter of the rest of the book? Would anyone who hasn’t been put off by the sexual mutilation be offended that a nineteen year old is murdered? On the other hand, without doing it, I simply can’t believe Jasper or Connie would be in any danger, and when you’re incapable of putting your leads’ lives in serious jeopardy like the other books are doing, where is the suspense?

I guess Game isn’t so bad as a first second outing into the genre of crime thrillers. But personally, having been long exposed to these kinds of books, this pale imitation just isn’t doing it for me.


Go to Mitch’s review on Goodreads.

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