Syndrome E by Franck Thilliez

Syndrome E by Franck Thilliez (Penguin)-When a rare film buff, Ludovic Sénéchal, sees an ad for a bunch of old films for sale, he’s ecstatic and can’t believe his luck. He finds one film that’s unmarked that particularly piques his interest, and it’s the first thing he watches as soon as he gets his stash home. He never could have imagined what would come after watching the movie, however, and ends up calling the first person he could hit on speed dial: his ex, Lucie Henebelle, a cop with an inquisitive mind, and luckily, fond memories of her time with Ludovic, even though they didn’t stay together. Ludovic has gone blind, and is insisting that it has something to do with the film he watched. He pleads with Lucie for help, and she vows to do it, even though she has a sick daughter in the hospital. Lucie herself watches the film and is left feeling disgusted and uneasy, and although the images on the film are disturbing, they don’t quite account for the deep feeling of unease that she’s left with after the viewing. Luckily, Ludovic has pointed her in the direction of another film buff that might be able to tell her more about the film, and she immediately follows up with him, as well as with the man that the film was originally purchased from. During her inquiries, she receives a mysterious phone call from a man asking about the film, and a case involving five bodies found at a construction site…

Meanwhile, Inspector Franck Sharko is investigating that very case: five bodies found buried at a construction site, their hands cut off, eyes taken, and tops of their skulls removed. Identifying the bodies will be tough, and the autopsy reveals some very odd details. Soon he’s contacted by Lucie and this is where their paths collide. Soon, the body count begins to climb with people connected with the case being killed in heinous, sadistic ways, and it will lead Lucie and Sharko into some very strange territory, and points to some people in very high places. Who was the man that made this strange film, and what does it have to do with the five bodies at the construction site? This case will take the investigation from France to Egypt, Canada, and beyond, as Lucie and Sharko attempt to get to the bottom of these horrible murders.

When I started Syndrome E, I expected a fairly straightforward thriller, and it is thrilling, but straightforward it is decidedly not, and it features two cops that are anything but ordinary. Franck Sharko is still getting used to his new “desk” job as a profiler, after symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia begin to plague him, most often as a hallucination of a little girl named Eugenie who chides him at every turn. He’s in treatment, but keeping her at bay isn’t easy and it doesn’t help that he still mourns for his wife and young daughter. Lucie is a single mother of twins, one of which is in the hospital and is trying to balance her near obsession with her job with motherhood. Sharko and Lucie begin their partnership tentatively, feeling their way around each other with care, and although it’s an awkward dance, it’s an important one, because they soon begin to form a bond that has sprung from this horrifying case and also their troubled pasts. They’ll need what this bond gives them to survive this one, though, because just when you think you know what’s coming, another twist comes along, spinning the narrative further into the odd, and unexpected.

Syndrome E is a fascinating read. Without giving away too much, it quickly becomes obvious that there’s more to that eerie film than first meets the eye, and you’ll learn some fascinating facts about the history and forensics of celluloid. Exotic locales, mind control, genocide, and a couple of killers that seem to know no bounds are just the tip of the iceberg with this one. I was absolutely riveted, and honestly, didn’t want it to end. The author hit a home run with this very creepy, unique, and terrifying thriller, and I’ll follow Lucie and Sharko anywhere. Luckily, there’s more to come with Bred to Kill in 2015, and I can’t wait.

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