Next Century Publishing
Reviewed by Rick Hipson
This is easily Barry Hoffman’s most mature and polished novel to date, which isn’t to take anything away from his previous works by any means. Barry has always been a champion of the minimalistic approach and with this latest offering his talent for packing a wallop with so few words has never been more evident. During the prologue alone we are taken on a journey much akin to an emotional roller coaster as we are cast into the backseat of a not-yet-practicing serial killer and the love of his life. Before the reader has a chance to register what’s going on, we’re careening off the road as an invisible passenger to bare witness to a scene which Barry orchestrates into something that’s as poetically beautiful as it is gut wrenching. And that’s just the first chapter.
Following the prologue, we hit the streets to join partners in crime (literarily) Ariel and Thea as they arrive on scene to investigate our killer’s first victim, a young runaway with an unspoken story to tell. From here on in, it’s a gritty game of cat and mouse. Its notable cast of characters and us, the invisible passenger, are soon questioning the limits of our morality not to mention the many perceptions through which we view the world around and within us.
Much like our primary characters, Blood Sacrifice represents several layers that account for the whole. It’s a suspense novel; a thriller; a supernatural; a crime noir. It could even lay claim to being an allegory for racial and sexual identity or for social commentary for the derelicts of an urban landscape. Barry also provides plenty of horrific elements as well. I’m not embarrassed to admit that even this diehard horror fan enjoyed a few squeamish moments of glee over some of the more brutal scenes along the way.
As the story unfolds, answers give way to far more questions. Not only must detectives Ariel and Thea somehow utilize nothing but crumbs of evidence to track down an elusive serial killer with a penchant for the artistic side, they must do so while the top brass forces their backs against the wall. A former Lieutenant with a sharp bone to pick that goes way back wants nothing more than to take over the case and throw Ariel’s career under a bus from which there is no return. Add to that the prophecy-like inclusion of Thea’s “twin” who claims to have a supernatural interest in the killer – and in Thea – and it becomes clear that a killer preying upon the city’s discarded children are only the beginning of what’s in store for our detectives and the wild ride they take us on.
Blood Sacrifice provides a masterful depiction of the human condition and the psychology which is at the core of the choices we make and the consequences of those choices. A former inner city school teacher in the heart of Philadelphia, Barry has first-hand knowledge of the darker effects of choices and how they can shape one’s identity. The author bleeds what he knows on the page without managing to be preachy about it by injecting just enough inner dialogue to capture us as a fly on the wall while still leaving plenty for us to draw our own conclusions. The effect is a relatable connection to the various points of view we’re presented with.
Overall, the story fires on all cylinders, eventually reaching a fevered pitch when it all comes together towards its final chapters. Blood Sacrifice is sure to leave most of you feeling unsettled, maybe even disturbed or offended, but mostly searching for more within the archives of Barry Hoffman.