Sunday , October 2 2022
A harrowing thriller takes its inspiration from some dark medical experiments .

Book Review: ‘Syndrome E’ by Franck Thilliez

Lucie Henebelle , a lieutenant in the Crime Intelligence unit of Lille Police Department receives a panicked call from one of her former lovers who has been struck blind while watching a mysterious experimental film from the 1920s, which he bought at an estate sale of a Dutch film and conspiracy theory buff.

The blindness turns out to be psychological in origin and a reaction to rather disturbing images that the mysterious film projects subliminally. As Henebelle investigates the mystery of the dangerous film reel, the mutilated bodies of five men turn up at a construction site in Rouen.

Chief Inspector Frank Sharko arrives on the site to examine the corpses bearing signs of cruelty and violence. Like Henebelle, Sharko is a troubled character, struggling with delusions prompted by the tragic circumstances of the deaths of his family. As damaged souls, Frank and Lucie make a personal connection during the course of the story.

The two investigations cross paths as Sharko and Henebelle uncover traces of a vast conspiracy spanning decades and continents involving secret medical experiments on Canada’s orphans the intent of which was to explore Syndrome E. Their investigations put them also in path of danger as a deranged survivor of the experiments stalks and kills in a very brutal manner those who have any connection to the film. Interest and involvement of the French military also poses danger to the two detectives.

Like the Canadian orphans and mind control experiments mentioned in the book, Syndrome E is, in fact, real. The syndrome was first written about in 1997 by Itzhak Fried at The Lancet. The syndrome involves a transformation of apparently normal groups of people into killers. What if this condition could spread? Franck Thilliez’s thriller builds on this question and imagines a spooky means of transmission, creating a frightening prospect of a mental condition that can spread, infecting anyone.

What makes this thriller a harrowing reading experience is not merely the idea of the power of the subconscious and the limits of human free will but the amoral nature of the hidden aspects of state power. Like  the subconscious, the secret compartments of government hold frightening and disturbing forces that like Syndrome E can infect anyone and animate monstrous acts of depravity.

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About A. Jurek

A Jurek is a Blogcritics contributor.

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