Sunday, December 9, 2012

"Syndrome E" by Franck Thilliez

Already a runaway bestseller in France, [this book] tells the story of beleaguered detective Luci Hennebelle, whose old friend has developed a case of spontaneous blindness after watching an extremely obscure film from the 1950s. Embedded in the film are subliminal images so unspeakably heinous that Lucie realizes she must get to the bottom of it - especially when nearly everyone who comes into contact with the film starts turning up dead.

Enlisting the help of Inspector Sharko - a brooding, broken analyst for the Paris police who is exploring the film's connection to five murdered men left in the woods - Lucie beings to strip away the layers of what is perhaps the most disturbing and powerful film ever made. Soon Sharko and Lucie find themselves mired in a darkness that spreads across politics, religion, science, and art while stretching from France to Canada, Egypt to Rwanda, and beyond.

With this taut U. S. debut, Thilliez explores the origins of violence through radical science in a breakneck and erotically charged thriller rich with shocking plot twists and profound questions about the nature of humanity.

One of the best things about the Goodreads First Reads contests is winning books that you've never really heard of by authors you're not familiar with. This book certainly fits the bill, as it wasn't on my radar before entering the contest, and I certainly hadn't read anything by the author before now.

What's weird is that I know I read the description for this book, and yet, when I won this copy, I still had the wrong impression as to what it was about. I think it's the whole movie = spontaneous blindness thing; I was picturing something along the lines of the horror movies The Ring, and this is about as far from that as you can get.

The book starts out a bit slowly, as there's a lot of character introduction, exposition, etc. The reader is only allowed as much information as the main characters, so we're trying to figure out the mystery just as Luci and Sharko are. At times, this works really well, and at others, just like the police, I found myself frustrated that I couldn't fit the pieces together fast enough. And as I've found with other translated works, there's a bit of a wall between the work and the reader, leaving it sometimes feeling a bit more like a report than a work of fiction. Thankfully, this starts to subside as the reader becomes accustomed to the translator's style, and that's when the book starts to pick up.

It's hard to describe what this book is about. It works on several different levels: police procedural, dialog on mental illness, thesis on violence, etc. What I can say is that I really enjoyed it, and I highly recommend it to those following this blog. I'm hoping that Thilliez puts out another book soon, preferably one that sees the return of Luci and Sharko. But I will probably read whatever he chooses to put out next.


BeadlesAz said...

Just finished the book. I'm obsessing over it. Been a long time since that happened. Thilliez has another book or two in the series - not yet available in English. Anyone have any idea if they are in the works?

Traci (aka the Bookbabe) said...

I wondered if it was going to be a series! The ending obviously pointed toward one, didn't it? As to publication in English, I have no idea. Probably depends on sales of this title. I'll keep my fingers crossed :)