A film collector struck suddenly blind, after watching a bizarre film from the 1950’s. Five dead bodies unearthed at a construction site, dissected with surgical precision. In Franck Thilliez’s Syndrome E, two seemingly unrelated cases bring two tortured detectives together, as they peel back layers of madness, conspiracy, and violence spanning multiple continents.
Detective Lucie Henebelle receives a desperate call from an old flame–he thinks he’s gone blind, and he called the first person he could on his phone, punching speed dial for help. Unable to stop herself from investigating, despite the fact that she’s on vacation with a sick daughter, she discovers the frightening film at her old beau’s home.
Chief Inspector Frank Sharko studies the five dead bodies in the sweltering heat at the construction site. He’s a criminal profiler, but true to type, he wrestles with his own demons as much as those of the criminals he tracks. Sharko sees a young girl who isn’t there. He’s a fully paranoid schizophrenic, fractured by trauma. He works through it, running to the grocery store to pick up a few things for his delusion on the way home.
Their investigations lead them to each other, and they uncover a web of diabolical scientific research enmeshed with historical tragedy, layer by layer. From orphaned children in Canada, to genocides in Rwanda, Sharko and Henebelle seem to be on the trail of violence. Violence, referred to in a hushed tone by members of governments, scientists, doctors, and researchers, as a syndrome.
I named Syndrome E as one of the spookiest novels I’ve read this Halloween, as there are mental images from this book that still haunt me. No matter how many horror movies I watch, reading about a dark and mysterious film allows my mind to create a scarier image than anything producers have yet to create.
This theory will be put to the test, as Syndrome E is set to be adapted to film by Paramount Pictures and Indian Paintbrush Pictures, with Mark Heyman of Black Swan fame writing the script.
Syndrome E is part of a series originally published in France, and the second in the series, Bred to Kill, is out tomorrow. I’m in the middle of it now, and can’t wait to get back to it. It picks up right with Syndrome E‘s jolting ending, and Thilliez doesn’t spare his characters any agony.
Although Syndrome E was the first U.S. release, there are five books in the series. Hopefully we can expect the rest of the series in translation soon… My French is not that good.