A movie buff in northern France goes blind after watching a short anonymous horror film. He calls on Lucie his ex-girlfriend and a cop in Lille, to take the film to an expert film analyst. The expert demonstrates that the film, made in Canada in 1955, contains subliminal images and a whole other hidden movie of little girls torturing rabbits. He is soon found brutally murdered and the film stolen.

Four bodies missing part of their skulls, their eyes, and hands are found buried by a crew laying a pipeline and the profiler Sharko is brought in to explore the crime. They make a connection to a triple murder of girls in Egypt in 1994—the three girls who did not know each other were found in different places with their brains and eyes missing.

Sharko and Lucie begin to unravel the mystery by tracking the people in the film and those who made it. Sharko goes to Egypt; she goes to Canada –both nearly lose their lives as a result. Their research brings them closer to linking the seemingly disparate murders to occult military operations, involving the French Foreign Legion and the CIA.

They solve the crime, but the ending is disturbing.


Notwithstanding the claim that the events and characters are a “product of the author’s imagination” or they are “used fictiously” and any resemblance is “entirely coincidental,” this thriller trades on a wide variety of true historical events.

A central premise is the notion that mass hysteria could be provoked by subliminal, visual messages (as in a film) and that it could be communicated with a detectable alteration in nervous structures: Syndrome E. An investigator interested in the condition needs access to the brains and eyes of those affected, and might be motivated to kill in order to obtain them.

Sharko (like Charcot, get it?) is a damaged investigator working as a profiler. After losing his wife and child, he sinks into severe depression and paranoid schizophrenia. His hallucinatory side-kick, the little girl Eugenie, is a palpable character in this novel who makes important contributions to his work. Indeed, Sharko’s generous boss believes that he is better at his job when his illness is active.

Fifteen years younger, blonde, perky Lucie is a single mother of twins, one of whom is ill in hospital. Her obsession with work and solving crime is tempered by maternal guilt at her multiple absences. The least convincing part of the novel is the budding romance between the two, although it will surely participate in the forthcoming film.

Episodes of mass hysteria that result in horrific violence occur throughout the novel as possible examples of Syndrome E: Nazi murders, Rwandan genocide, Amityville. An explicit connection is made to the real CIA-funded experiments at the Allan Memorial Institute in Montreal conducted by Ewan Cameron called Dr. Ewan Sanders in the novel. (See in this database, Anne Collins and Harvey M. Weinstein). The experiments spill over to add CIA-funded torture to the other miseries brought upon the Duplessis orphans incarcerated in psychiatric hospitals, recently the subject of the medico-historical gaze.


Translated from the original  2010 French  by Mark Polizzotti


Viking Penguin

Place Published

New York



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