Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Review: Syndrome E by Franck Thilliez

The classic police procedural meets cutting-edge science in this huge international bestseller.

With this taut US debut, Thilliez explores the origins of violence through cutting-edge and popular science in a breakneck thriller rich with shocking plot twists and profound questions about the nature of humanity.

Already a runaway bestseller in France, Syndrome E tells the story of beleaguered detective Lucie Hennebelle, whose old friend has developed a case of spontaneous blindness after watching an extremely rare -- and violent -- 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 Franck 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 begins 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. And just who is responsible for this darkness will blow listeners' minds, as Syndrome E forces them to consider: What if the earliest and most brilliant advances and discoveries of neuroscience were not used for good but for evil?

From the library.

Despite the hubbub about this I held off on reading it for the longest time because of all the French names in it.  I actually started with the book and gave up because it was just too frustrating to see an unpronounceable French name, whether belonging to a person or a place, in virtually every sentence.  I'm glad I gave it a second chance though since it turned out to be rather intriguing.

The story was interesting, with plenty of twists and turns, but it wasn't something that really drew me in and made me care about the resolution.  It was more of a mild curiosity than anything.  I probably could have abandoned the book halfway through and had no lingering need to find out the ending.  I was actually surprised by my complete neutrality on this.  The ending, while a surprise, didn't give me that "big reveal" feel and I felt more like "Huh.  Well, whatever." than anything.

I also couldn't have cared less about Lucie or Sharko as people.  There was no emotional connection to the characters and I really didn't care one way or the other what happened to them.  As such there was a sex scene that I gather was supposed to be touching and romantic but really just came across as incredibly awkward.

The only character I did find inspired any sort of emotion was Eugenie.  She was beyond annoying and actually made me want to give up on the book entirely at several points.  I wasn't entirely sure what her purpose was beyond annoying both the Sharko character and the reader.  I was a tiny bit mollified by the resolution of her story arc, but not entirely.

Further issues arose from the fact that this was very clearly a translation with all its attendant issues.  Sayings were translated poorly, such as "son of a dog" instead of "son of a bitch" and so on.  Dates were also pronounced as "May Ten" instead of "May 10th".  It wasn't a huge deal but it was enough to be slightly grating on top of the other concerns. 

I did appreciate that while Americans were mentioned they were not the villains of the story which was a very pleasant change from an international book as most non-American authors seem to be intent on promoting the "all Americans are evil" agenda.

Overall, while this was interesting it wasn't particularly enjoyable but it wasn't bad either.  I still feel completely neutral about it.  I wouldn't necessarily recommend it, but I wouldn't recommend against it either.  If you're looking for a fast paced thriller this is not it but it is still a good quality read.

★★★☆☆ = Liked It


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