Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

'Syndrome E': A Police Thriller with Gallic Flair Franck Thilliez Lands in America with a 'Compulsively Readable' Tale of Damaged People and Tangled Webs

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

'Syndrome E': A Police Thriller with Gallic Flair Franck Thilliez Lands in America with a 'Compulsively Readable' Tale of Damaged People and Tangled Webs

Article excerpt

"SYNDROME E"

By Franck Thilliez

Viking ($26.95)

Having developed a strong taste for intrigue and serial mayhem with a Nordic flavor, we now have a chance to sample some French fare prepared from the same food groups. True to the Gallic reputation for gastronomy, the dish is complex, with perhaps just a bit too much fat, but overall pleasurable and satisfying.

"Syndrome E" marks the U.S. debut of Franck Thilliez, author of several best-selling thrillers in his native France and Europe. The book, the first of a series, introduces Chief Inspector Franck Sharko of the Paris Bureau of Violent Crimes, a 50-something criminal profiler, and the younger Lucie Hennebelle, a lieutenant in the Criminal Investigations unit of the Lille Police Department. They meet when their two investigations intersect, and each immediately recognizes a fellow member of the walking wounded, emotionally damaged by their personal histories and having seen too many horrors in their work.

Sharko is so damaged he's broken. We first meet him in the midst of a medical treatment -- transcranial magnetic stimulation -- meant to reduce hallucinations arising from his trauma-induced schizophrenia. But neither the treatments nor his antipsychotic medications banish the vision and taunts of Eugenie, a demanding little girl and Sharko's near-constant companion, occasionally welcome, more often dreaded.

Hennebelle manages to get on with her life, despite the weight of her depression, doing her best as the single mother of twin girls, seeking to end her loneliness through online dating. It is one of these failed relationships that pulls her into a baffling case, when she receives a panicked phone call from her ex-lover: He has been struck blind while watching a mysterious and disturbing film from the 1950s, unearthed from the archives of a recently deceased Belgian collector.

The diagnosis is hysterical blindness, triggered by subliminal images of unimaginable depravity. Hennebelle undertakes a dangerous quest to discover the origins of the frightening and powerful film, and the body count soon begins to mount. Her search takes her as far as Montreal, and brings to light some of the darker pages of Canadian history. …

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