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by Barry Hoffman

(Delirium Books, $50.00, 372 pages, 2006, ISBN: 1-929653-80-8.)

Review by William P Simmons

cover scanCombining sensationalistic terror with poignant examinations of character, Blindsided, the fourth book in Barry Hoffman's critically acclaimed Eyes series, is exciting and emotionally involving, as capable of evoking philosophical inquiry as white-knuckle suspense. Featuring a storyline as brutal in its examination of the after-effects of violence as it is thoughtful in the intimate treatment of such universal emotions as fear, wonder, and culpability, this novel is at once both an unapologetic thriller and a thoughtfully lyric expose of the hidden byways of the human mind and heart in conflict.

A noir-inspired love-song to psychological horror, Hoffman's characters are both victims and victimizers. This novel penetrates deeper into the capabilities, secret histories, and motivations of his characters than ever before. Time is a principle theme of this novel of debasement and redemption, as are the hidden layers buried within the psyche. Both of these motifs are carefully joined by Hoffman's emphasis on the fragmented, morose presents that his characters (barely) suffer through, living half-lives never allowed to truly grow because they are haunted by pasts more potent to them than their waking lives. The painful tragedies of the past deny his characters the ability to grow, change, or recognize what potential they might have lurking beneath needle-tracked, self-abused skins. Depicting their lives in a painfully believable half-light that lends greater psychological insight and aesthetic drama to a rapid-fire paced narrative structure, Hoffman creates a world haunted not by ghosts but realities too potent to deny.

A painfully honest vivisection of the inhuman-human-condition, Blindsided is appropriately named, doing just this to readers expecting nothing more than a typical suspense outing. Hoffman's seething tale of torment is as culturally scathing as it is honest in its depiction of the sordid, seedy lives of people lost in the pathos of their own emotional hells. Hoffman's prose hits like a punch to the gut. Quick-paced and richly textured, this quest for identity and challenges typically championed definitions of morality. It also shows the novelist veering into directions only glanced at in Judas Eyes.

In a plot as subversively jarring as it is thoughtful, this grim expose of secret identities focuses as much on setting as character. Deidre Caffrey, a series favorite, is murdered. Shara, everyone's favorite anti-hero, is depicted with impressive honesty, warts and all. Because Hoffman depicts the ugly depth to which her soul can descend, it's easier to appreciate the mercy of her more positive actions. When she learns that she has been made executor to Deidre's eastate, and, even more surprising, realizes that her ex-rival's sister is a heroin addict, her own fate becomes entangled with Deidre's memory, revealing aspects of the later character that lend her a believability and grim poetry that eluded her when she was alive (a fact alluded to by Hoffman in his epilogue). Rushing characters through unexpected if ironically fitting ends, the urban nightmares of his back alleys, crack-houses, and uncaring streets are both symbolic and grittily real. Hoffman's mean streets are very mean indeed, but they are just as often beautiful in a grimy, harsh manner. Honesty of approach makes these urban surroundings no less penetrative and empathetic as the people who live, suffer, shoot up, and die in them.

Hoffman invites readers to face their potentiality for violence and pain reflected in the motivations of his all-to-human monsters. Shara, struggling to cope with the pleasures and pains of living in a world shattered by violence, hopes to exorcize her rage and confusion in a life without empathy by helping Deidre's sister. The results are refreshing in a time when many publishers shy away from honest depictions of reality for the crowd-pleasing ethics of potboiler sentiment. There is no final truth in Hoffman's world, no saving grace or clear-cut answers. In this, the novel is true to life. An unflinching look into the face of identity, adversity, and terrors that wear our own faces, Blindsided is a fitting continuation to perhaps the most original and emotionally satisfying series in modern crime fiction. Focusing more on the emotional effects of violence than the act itself, Hoffman's analysis of morbid motivations and hard-knuckled redemption are sometimes hard to accept, yet his work succeeds as thriller fiction precisely because he inspires reflection as well as outrage.

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