You’re seventeen years old, and your father is the most notorious serial killer America has ever produced.
He brought you up. Taught you everything he knows. Everyone in your ordinary American town knows who you are.
So even though Dear Old Dad is safely behind bars, when the killing starts all over again, you are the first person the police come to see.
They don’t know whether it’s nature or nurture. And neither do you.
Most of this year, I’ve been taking a class on representations of evil in popular literature. We’ve gone from Voltaire’s Candide to philosophers such as Kant, Arendt, Liebniz, and Nietzsche, and we’ve just finished looking at books surrounding spree and serial killers.
So, in my spare when I wasn’t reading about Charles Manson, watching Bowling For Columbine (yes, it’s a suggested watch on our syllabus) or re-reading my dog-eared copy of The Psychopath Test, I switched this book on my Kindle for some leisure time.
And this book is absolutely fascinating. Hot damn.
If you like crime, thrillers, and the exploration of good and evil, this book is for you. The inner workings of Jasper’s mind feel absolutely realistic, especially considering that his father was, indeed, a fictitious yet monstrous serial killer. A Ted Bundy figure who moved from state to state, doing terrible things to the women he captured, and making his own son watch. I think it goes without saying that that kind of childhood would mess up your psyche. Really, really badly.
The book brings up the question of nature vs. nurture several times. Jasper’s grandmother knew she’d given birth to a ‘bad egg’, and she always swore that Jasper would grow up to be just like his father. Except… Jasper was taken away from his mother at a young age and forced into watching and doing terrible things. This may be a personal bias, since I’m generally in the ‘nurture’ camp on this debate. However, Jasper is extremely well realised and believable as a young man struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder and despairing over whether or not he really is a sociopath.
So, let’s get on to the plot proper rather than go on gushing about Jasper. Which, believe me, I could.
Following his father’s incarceration, Jasper has been living in the small town of Lobo’s Nod, trying to live as normally as possible. He’s got an awesome girlfriend named Connie, and a cheerful best friend named Howie, who suffers from haemophilia. They’re his anchors to the real world, and they’re always willing to comfort him when he’s having horrible flashbacks to his father’s abuse, or disagreeing with his mentally ill grandmother, or even trying to fend off this small town’s equivalent of the paparazzi.
But, unfortunately, there’s a murderer who’s just arrived in town. A murderer calling himself ‘The Impressionist’, obsessed with the ‘work’ of Billy Dent. He confounds the police, but the puzzle pieces all fit into place for Jasper. It’s just a shame that Billy Dent 2.0 is always two or three steps ahead of him, and it takes a little while to actually figure out that The Impressionist is copying America’s most prolific serial killer, rather than just being a random increase in the number of murders in this town.
Admittedly, the book starts out incredibly strong and then peters out going into the third act. It’s a shame, but not enough for me to consider knocking a full star off its rating. Going to actually visit Billy Dent in prison (not really spoilers, I guess) should have had a lot more gravity to it, but it just seems tacked on as window-dressing, and thus, the ending is rather rushed. (Also, I called the identity of the murderer quite early on, but… I suppose that’s just something I’ve picked up from reading and analysing crime fiction over the past few years.)
Speaking of Billy Dent, though, my God. He’s terrifying. He’s this hideous, ghostly presence in Jasper’s mind, and it chills you to the bone when poor Jazz is remembering parts of his childhood. No wonder his memory is ‘a tossed salad’. I think we’d all be trying our best to forget, especially if the highlight of your ninth birthday was being taken down to the basement and shown how to dissolve human body parts in quicklime.
Billy Dent’s fathering skills – such as they were – resembled brainwashing techniques more than parenting. As a result, Jazz mostly remembered bits and pieces, like now — a memory of blood running into a sink drain; the pungent smell of it thick in his nose; a sharp stained knife resting in the sink. Jazz had a terror of knives left in sinks. He couldn’t stand seeing them there. At home, every time he used a knife, he had to clean it and stow it in a drawer or knife block immediately; just the sight of a knife in a sink made him shiver and quake.
‘Nice job, son…. Nice, good cut. Clean…’
On bad days, Jazz wondered if he had figuratively taken his father’s place, just as he’d literally taken Billy’s place behind the wheel of the Jeep. Was that his destiny? Billy Dent made no secret of his plans for Jazz: ‘You’ll be the greatest ever, Jasper. They’ll never catch you. You’ll be the new boogeyman parents use to scare their kids into behaving. You’ll make everyone forget Speck and Dahmer and even Jack the goddamn Ripper. My boy. My boy.’
Okay, so the writing is a teensy bit clunky and clumsy at times, but it’s nothing severe. I found myself hooked very easily, devouring this book in small chunks and then regretting having to set it aside to do uni work.
Honestly, it’s a pretty damn good book, setting aside my minor issues with the ending and some of the writing at times. The psychology of our main protagonist is perfectly realised, and it’s thoroughly gripping and thrilling.
Verdict: 4.5 stars.