by Franck Thilliez
Review: Two murder investigations — one of an old man, a professional restorer of old films; the other of a mass burial of five men, their heads cut open — are unexpectedly linked by the only common element to both — all the victims had their eyes surgically removed from their bodies — in Syndrome E, a thriller originally published in France in 2010 as Le Syndrome E by Franck Thilliez.
Detective Lucie Hennebelle is visiting her sick daughter in the hospital when she gets a frantic call from Ludovic Sénéchal, an ex-lover, who claims he has been blinded from viewing an old film that he purchased from a collector. She arranges for him to be admitted into the hospital, but he extracts a promise from her: have the film looked at by a film restorer, Claude Poignet. She agrees, and when she meets Claude later, he tells her the film was made in 1955 and is remarkable in that a series of subliminal images were carefully embedded into the film; too, the filmmaker seemed to have created a series of special effects that were so effective, so real, they apparently induced some sort of hysterical blindness in Ludovic. He asks to keep the film a bit longer to study it further, but that's the last time Lucie sees him alive. He is later found hanging in his studio, disemboweled and his eyes missing. The film has vanished.
Separately, a construction site has unearthed the bodies of five men, four of whom were killed by gunshots to the chest. The fifth apparently survived long enough to subsequently undergo some sort of gruesome medical experimentation before being killed. All the men had the tops of their skulls surgically removed, their brains and eyes carved out. Detective Franck Sharko is assigned the case, and he quickly discovers that the crime he is investigating is remarkable similar to another, unsolved case in Egypt.
The narrative in Syndrome E alternates between the actions of Lucie and Sharko until they inevitably meet and realize the culprit in both their cases is the same person. This is a fast-paced thriller but a lengthy and rather complicated one all the same. (Some of the subject matter is based on historical fact.) The title refers to what Lucie comes to learn is a "violent mental contamination starting from a catalyst … a rare, random phenomenon that can strike anywhere, at any time." This is an unsettling thriller, in part due to the graphic nature of the crimes, but probably more so because of the not very subtle implication that Syndrome E is a real condition that can strike anywhere, at any time … and affect anyone.
Acknowledgment: Penguin Group provided an ARC of Syndrome E for this review.
Review Copyright © 2012 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Location(s) referenced in Syndrome E: France; Canada; Egypt
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Syndrome E by Franck Thilliez
Publication Date: August 2012
List Price: $26.95