Barry Hoffman

Crossroad Press; Gordian Knot / 357 pages / First Digital edition (April 7, 2016)


This is the book THEY don’t want you to see!

A bit over-the-top? Come on, how often do you get to write headlines like that? That are true? When an issue of censorship like this comes along, you’ve got to make some noise, attract some attention. Because it’s genuine: UPENN — the very real location in Barry Hoffman’s latest novel Born Bad — would very much like to bury the entire issue.

Born Bad tells the harrowing story of a string of suicides on the UPENN campus and the sociopath who is the instigator of the deaths. It is more than just your standard psychological thriller or a voyeuristic peek into dark realism; Hoffman’s novel is as much about the safety nets and support offered by the university as it is about the mystery. But, according to UPENN officials, the subject matter covered in the novel is too “sensitive” to publicise. Publicise at their school, may be closer to the truth.

But, enough about the dust-up, Born Bad is strong enough to stand on its own merits. Hoffman needs no censorship allure to tempt readers to this book.

Detective Ariel Dampier thinks she has been called to the sad, but open-and-shut case of a student suicide. Ex-husband Lucius Jackson, a member of the UPENN police force, believes there is something more sinister behind this death and the rash of suicides that follow. Together, they plan to dig deeper into the cases. Together, they incur the lethal wrath of the killer.

Shanicha Wilkins is a nightmare that has been recurring in every life she touches. A “crack baby,” she suffered the kind of brain damage that often shows up in the brain scans of serial killers; she has no conscience, no empathy. Add to that a rocky childhood and you’ve got a sociopath in the making. Of course, the making doesn’t take long, as she begins her secret reign of terror in elementary school. Starting early — another characteristic she shares with fellow serial murderers.

As Ariel begins her investigation, she discovers the extensive support network in place at UPENN. Officers like Lucius, who bond with the students, become an accepted fixture of an area of campus, and are available to anyone who just needs to talk. A system that offers support and counselling to troubled students is in place. Students are not alone, and they don’t just slip through the cracks.

The system, though, wasn’t built to battle a hidden threat like Shanicha.

It is a story of tragedy and terror, and it is frighteningly possible. Even more than that it is a story of the nature of relationships — how they should and how they shouldn’t work. More than anything else, it is an unflinching look at the subject of suicide and the help that is available. No one has to face the darkness alone. Except, perhaps, on the UPENN campus, where it is better to keep such issues quiet.

Don’t accept the judgement of others, and don’t miss a fascinating and eye-opening look at this very real problem.