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Review: Blood of My Blood

Review: Blood of My Blood

Title: Blood of My Blood
Author: Barry Lyga
Published: 2014
Length: 468 pages

My star rating: ★ ★ ★

In this conclusion to the trilogy that began with I Hunt Killers, Jasper Dent discovers that his long-lost mother–whom he feared he was forced to kill as a child–is alive and in the the clutches of his father, the infamous and recently-escaped serial killer Billy Dent. After Billy ironically saves his life in New York, Jazz pursues him despite being seriously injured as well as an NYPD suspect. Jazz still struggles with the demons of his past and still wonders if he is, indeed, doomed to follow in his father’s murderous footsteps, but he is also determined to rescue his mother, and he will stop at nothing to do so.

Note: this review is mostly spoiler-free. I’ve included some spoilers in my Goodreads review.

There isn’t much real plot to Blood of My Blood. Unlike the previous two books, it’s not a whodunit, though the mystery of the Crows and the “Crow King” persists throughout, as does that of Jazz’s traumatic past in the form of his two disturbing, recurring dreams, one of which involves an explicit sexual encounter. What limited action there is revolves around Jazz’s penultimate confrontation with his father.

There’s not much character development, either, so it can’t be called a character study.

Jazz is in full angst/borderline sociopath mode for almost the entire book, not that one can blame him. I found it a bit less tiresome than in other books, maybe because I knew it was finally leading up to the answers I’ve spent three books waiting for. Still, except for the last fifty or so pages, Jazz doesn’t learn much and is essentially static, so I also can’t blame anyone for being frustrated with him as an MC. He is revealed to have even more issues than we already knew he had, and those are never really addressed (much less resolved) properly in the narrative.

His best friend Howie is no longer of any real significance, even ceasing to function as effective comic relief. Meanwhile his girlfriend Connie continues to be vain, vapid, and dumb as a rock, just like she was in Game. At this point, I honestly no longer remember why I thought she was such a good character in the first book. Worse, Barry Lyga literally immobilizes her by breaking her leg. Her immobility robs her of any chance to redeem herself as a character, since she spends 95% of the book lying and/or sitting around somewhere. (Connie’s selfish why-wouldn’t-any-man-want-my-smokin-hot-bod attitude bugged me in Game, but her vanity is only more evident here. Her first question to he doctor–after surviving a serial killer–is about her face, because makeup isn’t a thing!) And since they barely interact, I’m left scratching my head over why Connie and Jazz are even together. Any believable chemistry they had, they left behind in the first book.

Billy Dent is far more present a character in this last novel than he was in the previous two. Unfortunately. Lyga is a good author. He has a knack for crafting complex and interesting characters. But the bar for fictional serial killers was set pretty high thirty years ago, and Billy is no Hannibal Lecter. Some of the differences are intentional, of course, but Billy is meant to be almost all-knowing and completely deadly, and charming in a twisted way, much like Hannibal. (That’s always bothered me, tbh.) While Hannibal polite and cultured to a fault, however, Billy is just greasy and unpleasant. For Hannibal, killing is just another facet of his character. Being a misogynistic, psychotic, arrogant rapist and killer who’s obsessed with his “trade” is Billy’s entire character. I flipped pages eagerly to get more of one and wanted to take a shower every time I read about the other.

I’m not saying that made Billy a bad character, necessarily. But there’s so much hype and fear surrounding him that you’d think he was a walking atom bomb, and instead he’s just…really punchable. Lyga needed more showing and less telling throughout this series, but especially here. Show me that Billy Dent is a terrifying force of nature–or shut up about it and get on with the story already.

I agree with others that this final installment was very repetitive as well, rehashing all these facts and fears from the first two books. This ties into the lack of plot/character development criticism, since it makes the book’s length (four-hundred-plus pages) seem excessive at best. Answers or no answers, it also gets annoying to read about Jazz wondering, for the thousandth time, if he’ll end up a serial killer–just do something, Jazz!

Sorry to draw the comparison again, but I think this trilogy is structured quite similarly to Harris’ Hannibal trilogy as a whole as well. The first two books are whodunit crime thrillers with a recurring serial killer character (Hannibal/Billy), while the third follows the MC (Clarice Starling/Jazz) hunting the aforementioned serial killer, revealing new details of their past along the way (though Lyga reveals Jazz’s dark secrets, not Billy’s, in the final volume). Frankly, it all worked better for Harris. I was very interested in Jazz’s history when I read I Hunt Killers.  I wanted all the answers. But in the following two books, it became needlessly complicated and twisty, and, in the end, twisted.

Trying to avoid spoilers (those will be in my Goodreads review), I’ll just say that the big reveal disappointed me. It also struck me as pretty far beyond belief. I mean, I get it; this is fiction, and the whole premise of the series has strained credulity from the beginning. A young boy whose father committed a hundred-plus gruesome murders and groomed him to do the same was left in the care of his ill and unstable grandmother and never given any psychological evaluation or treatment? Okay, I guess I’ll buy that for the sake of a good story.

But then Game threw a monkey wrench in the whole thing: sexual abuse. I’m by no means saying that children who are sexually abused can’t grow up to be healthy, well-adjusted adults. But the nature of the abuse Jazz suffered as a child, as revealed in Blood of My Blood, makes it almost impossible for me to believe that he would have been functioning as well as he does, especially since he’s a hormonal, stressed-out teenage boy already predisposed to self-doubt and anxiety. It also feels like the sexual abuse angle was a last-minute addition by Lyga, something he only thought of after I Hunt Killers had already been published, because  I have a really hard time believing that Jazz–even if he repressed those memories–would be totally unaffected by them for an entire book until they very suddenly came back to haunt him.

In short, the big twist–though I didn’t see it coming from miles away–strikes me not only as forced but also as unnecessary, something even darker and sicker than the initial premise and meant to deliberately shock readers. Fine, but don’t do that and then pretend it never happened three chapters later, which is more or less what Lyga does. And after the climax, things were resolved either way too easily or not at all. Despite there being an epilogue, the book left me with yet more questions.

I also had a more minor issue with the writing. True, the characters stagnate in the last two books, which is a real bummer since Lyga’s strength was his characters. But in Blood of My Blood, they even start losing their distinctive voices. Maybe this has been a problem throughout and I only just noticed, but it really bugged me in this one.

“I need every available unit and man in this area, and I need it ten minutes ago!” Hughes went on. [Chapter 10]

And then…

“Tomorrow’s too late. I need to go, like, ten minutes ago.” [Jazz, Chapter 14]

And no less than three characters, all separately and in three different situations, have the thought “miracle of miracles!”

It struck me as lazy, like Lyga was no longer invested in his writing, and why should readers care if the author’s stopped caring? Maybe I’m being too harsh. Most of the writing was still good, and some moments here and there reminded me why I loved the first book so much and why I cared so much about Jazz and his backstory.

But in the end, I read Blood of My Blood more out of obligation rather than excitement. Even after everything was revealed, I kept asking if three books had been necessary or if one–that excellent first book–would’ve done just as well. Nothing about the revelations felt like they justified a longish trilogy. I don’t regret reading the whole series, but with hindsight, I don’t know that I would again.

Mostly, like several other characters, I ended up feeling really awful for Jazz. No one besides his teenage friends ever tried to help him. Well, no one except the sheriff of Lobo’s Nod. If only G. William, literally the only adult who cared about or made an effort for this poor kid, had adopted Jazz…now that’s a story I might be really interested in reading.

For all my whining, I think I preferred this book to Game (maybe because after that one I knew to lower my expectations?) If nothing else, it didn’t piss me off the way the ending of that one did. It’s also the least-gory book of the trilogy, yet somehow arguably the most disturbing in its own way. Lyga is still a good writer, and I still care about Jazz, and despite my disappointment I never outright disliked Blood of My Blood while I was reading it, so it gets three somewhat grudging stars from me.

Note: This is my first review for almost two months, because writing in-depth reviews for everything I read was starting to feel like a burden and was stopping me from reading as much as I used to. I’d get stuck on a review for days and then not start a new book while I was trying to process my thoughts on the last one. I felt like I had to review this one since I reviewed the first two, but I don’t know what I’ll review next. Whatever I have strong feelings on, I guess? Thanks for bearing with me!

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