With Bred to Kill, the second English release from the Inspector Sharko series (the sequel to Syndrome E), Franck Thilliez carves a niche for himself by wrapping his thrillers in science, wielding biology as other writers utilize dark streets and shady characters.
Modern mystery writers aren’t kind to their detectives, running them through gauntlets of pain and loss. It’s as if simply creating characters who solve crimes propels authors to sadistic levels in their fictional worlds. Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole is a tortured soul, as is Inspector Gamache of Louise Penney’s novels. Franck Thilliez’s characters are no exception to this rule. At the end of Syndrome E, we left Inspectors Sharko and Henebelle in love, but it was too good to be true–Henebelle’s sweet twin girls, Clara and Juliette, went to buy ice cream as she stayed back to chat with Sharko. And then, in an instant, both girls were gone.
Bred to Kill opens one year later, and the news isn’t good. Sharko struggled through Syndrome E, and in Bred to Kill Henebelle takes the plunge through that sad sea Sharko knows so well. In the last book, after all, Sharko decided they were the same type. Able to understand the extreme criminal, drawn too quickly into the case, unable to let go. It has been a rough year for both of them, as Henebelle left force, and Sharko requested a demotion to police lieutenant.
Their status as police is no matter, however, when they once again stumble across a case with significance for Henebelle. At a research center, a young woman is found dead in a chimpanzee’s cage. A case given to Sharko as punishment, expected to be obviously open and shut, turns out to be more complicated than anyone expected.
The young woman, Eva Louts, was investigating the evolution of left-handedness. Before her death, she visited a man in a maximum security prison, who was directly linked with the abduction of Henebelle’s daughters. This prisoner killed himself, but before doing so, he drew vivid drawings upside down. He was also left-handed. His bizarre drawings match those etched on the walls of an ancient cave, drawn by a Cro-Magnon who brutally murdered a family of Neanderthals, preserved in ice due to an avalanche. The Cro-Magnon was also left handed, researches know to the nature of the drawings.
What began as a simple case becomes an investigation across time–what could cause these men to violently act out, to draw upside down? Is there some link to left-handedness? As in Syndrome E, Henebelle and Sharko’s investigation becomes global and highly technical, as they bounce from doctor to scientist to research center, eventually trekking to the Amazon. I was relieved I’ve recently taken Evolutionary Biology 101, as some of the talk of DNA and evolution might have been a bit much without the background.
The subjects that felt like such a hook for me in Syndrome E began to feel a bit forced in this novel. I would have loved to see Sharko and Henebelle solve a different sort of crime, as the striking similarities between this case and their last felt almost silly at times. Franck Thilliez seems to be going for a scientific mystery thriller genre, which was such a unique idea when presented once but felt contrived at points in this second book. I think he can continue successfully with this theme, but he needs to think larger than violent viruses, or else Sharko and Henebelle may become the biological violence hunters, and that may become a dull trick.
Overall, Franck Thilliez pushes the limits of the traditional mystery novel. Biology bends the plot points of his stories in a way that makes for creative, if at times controversial, situations. Hopefully the next translations will be the first two books in the series, which have yet to be translated from the original French into English. As there are six of these novels in the original French, we can hope for much more Sharko and Henebelle to come.