Killer Instinct (The Naturals, #2)

The first few seasons, I watched the TV series Criminal Minds with my family.  I'd never heard of profiling before, so I thought it was a really interesting, fictional take on how profilers recreate the motives and methods of criminals.  Plus, the show had Mandy Patinkin ("Hello.  My name is Inigo Montoya") and Shemar Moore.  I stopped watching once Mandy Patinkin left, mostly because the humanizing influence that he brought to the show disappeared.  While it once dealt with the emotional trauma of doing such a job day in and day out, it now tortured characters in really horrific and gratuitous ways.  Patinkin has cited the violence-as-entertainment factor as the main reason for leaving the show.  And I say, good for him for realizing that his job was affecting his mental state in a negative fashion.

"But wait!" you cry.  "This review is supposed to be about Killer Instinct.  With a name like that, isn't it the same bloody, gratuitous violence that you just discussed?"  Nope.  While Jennifer Lynn Barnes, author of the series (Killer Instinct is book two; The Naturals is book one), does introduce a serial killer in each book, there's actually not a lot of violent content.  Instead, she explores the relationships between the teens who are the Naturals--people with extraordinary abilities that come in awfully handy when looking for killers.  Some, like the narrator Cassie and the troubled son-of-a-serial-killer Dean, are profilers, meaning that they can recreate a person's thought patterns and motivation.  They get what makes people tick.  Michael reads emotions.  Lia can both spot a lie and lie perfectly herself.  Sloane has a fantastic memory and can run massively complex calculations in her mind.

I can't really discuss The Naturals here without totally giving anything away, but let's just say that the resolution left Cassie unsure of her abilities and unsure of who she likes more, Dean or Michael.

Oh.  My.  Goodness.  I liked a book that had a love triangle in it.  Granted, it is a smallish love triangle, but it's cute and not overbearing and Cassie has legitimate reasons for being attracted to both Michael and Dean.  It's kind of like if you (ahem, "I") had to choose between, say, Benedict Cumberbatch and David Tennant.  Can't I have both?

We learn a lot more about each teen's past in Killer Instinct: why they are who they are and why they can do what they do.  Cassie, because she's a profiler, can recreate a killer's mind inside her own, and she's haunted by what those people do to their victims.  In a sense, she becomes them for a short period of time.  One of the FBI agents running the Naturals program says that this is Cassie's weakness: her empathy.  It might destroy her.

The adult FBI agents in the book aren't all Evil Adults, either.  They have secrets and emotional wounds, too.  They want to protect this group of very special kids, but at the same time, they know that other people might die if the Naturals don't use their abilities to catch criminals.  Catch-22.

The Naturals had a touch of Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad books about it; Killer Instinct shares a plot point with Barry Lyga's I Hunt Killers.  If you like either one of those, I think you'll love The Naturals series.

I'm actually really horrible at reviewing books that I enjoyed, particularly books that I enjoyed that don't fit my usual pattern.  By all accounts, I should have hated this.  Love triangle?  Nope.  Super-special snowflake characters?  No way!  Yet, something about Barnes' plotting and pacing kept me racing through this ARC. She also writes excellent banter between all of the teens. At the end of the day, it probably won't win the Printz, but it doesn't really want to.  Killer Instinct is an engaging YA thriller, and those are hard to come by.

Highly recommended (but read The Naturals first!).

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