Franck Thilliez’s international bestseller, “Syndrome E,” opens with a single-mom detective who lands a particularly sticky case: an ex-lover has become blind after watching a rare, violent film from the 50s. Meanwhile, deep in the woods outside Paris, the bodies of five men have been discovered bound together, with their hands, eyes and brains stolen. And that’s just the beginning of this mind-bending thriller. With “Syndrome E,” American audiences are getting to read Franck Thilliez’s work for the first time. In this selection from his favorite thrillers, it’s not only about serial killers and breathless suspense. Intriguing characters matter just as much.
By Franck Thilliez
“The Whisperer,” by Donato Carrisi
Six severed arms are found buried in a circle in a forest. Five of the arms were surgically cut from missing girls, aged 7 to 13. The sixth arm is from a mystery child, yet to be reported missing. A special investigative team, guided by highly intuitive criminologist Dr Goran Gavila, is put in charge of the case.
I read this book in 2011, the first from this brilliant Italian author and best-seller in Europe. I was completely hooked. If you’re a fan of crime fiction, strong characters and serial killers, you’ll like it. This reading should leave you both shocked and fascinated.
“Child 44,” by Tom Rob Smith
Stalin’s Soviet Union is an official paradise, where citizens live free from crime and fear only one thing: the all-powerful state. Defending this system is idealistic security officer Leo Demidov, a war hero who believes in the iron fist of the law. But when a murderer starts to kill at will and Leo dares to investigate, the State’s obedient servant finds himself demoted and exiled. Now, with only his wife at his side, Leo must fight to uncover shocking truths about a killer-and a country where “crime” doesn’t exist.
It’s not by chance that Ridley Scott bought the rights to this book to make a movie. This story is a great thriller and also a wonderful historical novel. The book is, first of all, a depiction of men and women caught between conscience and instinct for survival. Tom Rob Smith makes us feel, on every page, his characters’ fear, cowardice and lying.
“The Crimson Rivers,” by Jean-Christophe Grange
A horrifically mutilated corpse is discovered wedged in an isolated crevice. The highly regarded but unpredictable ex-commando Pierre Niemans is sent from Paris to the French Alps to investigate. Meanwhile, Karim Abdouf, a young Arab policeman, is trying to find out why the tomb of a young child has been desecrated. When a second body is found, high up in a glacier, the paths of the two policemen are joined in their search for the killers, a trail that embroils them with the mysterious cult of the Crimson Rivers.
Jean-Christophe Grange is one of the best-selling authors in France and one of my favorite writers. When you open one of his books, you enter a very dark world, containing violence, crime, evil. His stories are very well researched and his travels as a reporter (in his previous job) are an important source of information for his writing.
“Therapy,” by Sebastian Fitzek
No witnesses, no evidence, no body: Star psychologist Viktor Larenz’s twelve-year-old daughter, Josy, who had suffered from an inexplicable illness, has vanished under mysterious circumstances. Four years later, Viktor is visited by a beautiful stranger named Anna Glass, a novelist who suffers from an unusual form of schizophrenia: all the characters she creates for her books become real. Viktor reluctantly begins therapy sessions with the stranger, but very soon these sessions take a dramatic turn as the past is dragged back into the light.
This first novel is a real page turner! No down time: The reader is literally caught up in this wild story by Sebastian Fitzek, a young German author. You turn the pages at full speed. The suspense is maintained masterfully with cliffhangers. If you like psychological thrillers, this one is for you.
“Before I Go to Sleep,” by S. J. Watson
As I sleep, my mind will erase everything I did today. I will wake up tomorrow as I did this morning. Thinking I’m still a child. Thinking I have a whole lifetime of choice ahead of me. . . .” Memories define us. So what if you lost yours every time you went to sleep? Your name, your identity, your past, even the people you love–all forgotten overnight. And the one person you trust may be telling you only half the story. Welcome to Christine’s life.
What a great idea. The character of Christine is fascinating, as is her condition. What would we be without memory? No violence, no murders or blood in this story; only fear and psychology. With a heroine you love immediately, a Machiavellian construction that creates suspense at every moment, one question haunts the reader’s mind after the last page is read: When will this talented author’s next book be published?
“The Devil of Nanking,” by Mo Hayder
The solitary Englishwoman Grey comes to Japan looking for a rare piece of footage that is said to document a particularly monstrous episode of the 1937 Nanking Massacre. Her quest will take her to a reclusive scholar and a wheelchair-bound gangster who clings to life with the aid of a mysterious elixir, and to a handsome American whose interest in Grey may be more sinister than romantic. The result is a work of spine-chilling suspense, masterful historical detail, and otherworldly beauty.
If you met Mo Hayder, you would never guess that she writes such frightening stories! She wrote a beautiful and very scary thriller here. This isn’t a thriller with serial killers and other deviant monsters; no bloody scenes, no descriptions of autopsies. The reader’s imagination is more than enough to increase suspense with the mystical and the historical perfectly mastered. An amazing read.