By Barry Hoffman
Gauntlet Press Publications
March, 2000; $40.00 HC
Reviewed by Rick Hipson
Born Bad is home to one of the most vile and dangerous villains I’ve read in quite some time. Shanicha Wilkins, our wicked antagonist at the dark center of this tale, will crawl under the skin and bore inside the minds of her prey until she’s feeding off their every weakness and innermost fears. But the fun starts when she makes them do all the dirty work while she basks in the victory of the destruction she’s wrought.
Author Barry Hoffman has given us a story that keeps the tension high while letting the pace unravel on its own. His organic style gradually pulls the reader inside the heart of Born Bad’s characters where we learn what really makes them think and act, what makes them feel. The result is a cast of believable characters, each with their own unique vulnerabilities and motives, expertly crafted beneath Barry’s pen.
Readers should find this Stoker nominated novel to be a polarizing experience that tells the unapologetic tale of a crack baby born without a conscience who has a serious penchant for putting chaos into motion. On the surface, Shanicha is charming enough to fit into a variety of social circles as a matter of survival for her deadly game. Blending into the University provides perfect cover for her ruthless brand of evil, and when she lies her way into a campus group therapy class, there seems to be no end in sight for the destruction she can get away with. At least not until Lucius Jackson, AKA Officer Friendly, the campus cop and student confidant, starts to suspect the random string of suicides might not be as random as the University would like the public to think. But before he can back up his suspicions with hard evidence, he has to come to grips with his own personal demons. In a strange twist of fate, his ex-wife, detective Ariel Dampier, walks back into his life after eight years of silence as she is assigned to wrap up a campus suicide case in quick order. This reunion of sorts inadvertently reignites a spark the pair once shared and forces Ariel to re-examine her bi-racial role in society, on the job, and in her past relationship with her ex-partner in crime and love. This sub-plot may be a bit overused here, but when you consider most of our own struggles with securing our identities, it does tend to give a balanced layer of depth and humanity to the characters within. And when the proverbial stuff hits the fan – as it often does – it’s easy to sense what pains they suffer as well as understand their determination to win at all costs.
At it’s core, Born Bad infuses psychological terror with a deadly dose of cat and mouse that kept this reviewer on edge well beyond his regular bedtime. Thus is the transcendent power of Barry Hoffman’s pen and the terror bestowed from Shanicha’s evil web of lies that simmers to the boiling point until we are brought to our knees by a finale that’s as poetic as it is jarring.
Born Bad is well worth reading past midnight.