Syndrome E - Franck Thilliez

This will be the 3rd version of this review. At first I loved the book, then I hated it, and now I neither love or hate it. In my defense, the book did wax and wane. I was looking for the resolution of the titular [b:Syndrome E|13589136|Syndrome E|Franck Thilliez||14360342], and the author --- ostensibly a popular one in France, although this appears to be his only book translated into English and made into an audio book --- withheld everything until the last chapter. That was cheeky! But it kept me reading, and my feelings about the book swinging back and forth between good and bad stemmed form the other elements of the narrative. On afterthought, this may have worked best as an SF short story, so as to at least excise the worrisome aspects of the novel.

Barring any liberties made by the translator, [a:Franck Thilliez|704601|Franck Thilliez|] is a good writer, showing flourishes that recall [a:Michael Connelly|12470|Michael Connelly|] and [a:Robert Ludlum|5293|Robert Ludlum|] in deftly dropping innocuous clues and in intimating some outrageous conspiracy. The details of the scientific extrapolations and police investigative procedures are convincing, although I claim no reference for how French jurisprudence works. The author builds his story from an initial set of crimes, one in northern France, where a female investigator, Lucie, is involved, and the other in the south, where chief inspector, Sharko, is called to handle. Sharko is the more interesting of the two as he is presented as suffering from schizophrenia and throughout the book is seen speaking with mental ghosts. Both investigators are dogged and willing to sacrifice their time and personal lives to pursue the trail. Eventually, they uncover an international conspiracy that spreads from the mid-1950s to the present. I did not find the aspects of the investigation very compelling, and as noted earlier, kept on with the book because I wanted to know the secret of Syndrome E. The author, apparently, understood this too and kept the denouement to the very end. Overall, I think the police procedural aspect was quite formulaic, compared to what's available in this genre in the English market, and the SF component, with its conspiracy roots, had some interesting extrapolation that may have worked as a standalone in shorter form. On this basis, I probably would have rated this book 4 stars. However, there were several unlikable aspects of the book that nearly made me stop reading.

There is an awful segment on Cairo that carried on condescendingly about Egyptians and their proclivities. This is cliched to say this, and also unwarranted and unfair, but this segment sounded like the "snooty Frenchman". The romance between the 50-something schizo detective and the blond go-getter was awkward and at some point had me cringing from a sense of inappropriateness or disbelief. The scenes in Montreal featured another diatribe about how the Quebecois politicians connived with the local church to mistreat children of unwed mothers. So things are really bottoming out (for me) by the time the big reveal comes about.

Syndrome E begins from the covert experiments by the CIA (those nasty Americans!) to produce mind control using subliminal images and experimentation on asylum inmates. In the course of the tests, a "prime" is discovered, a person infected with Syndrome E who can bring the syndrome about in others. Syndrome E is manifested by a debilitated moral control and inclination to extreme violence and aggression. The person conducting the experiments in the 50s adopts the prime as his child and moves to Canada where further development of the technique that produces Syndrome E are conducted over the course of 50 years. By the present day, the French Foreign Legion has taken up the study of Syndrome E resulting in a failed test of five of their recruits. The lead detectives discover this, near the end of the book, and find the original prime still alive and the cause for the crimes that they are investigating. The story concludes with the French police taking the prime away kicking and screaming, so to speak.

I'm wondering if the other (4?) books involving Sharko are ever translated into English whether I would read them. Am not so sure. What I do know is that I'm dropping my rating of this book to 3 stars for the snarky elements.