Franck Thilliez, thriller magician

At the top of the “best-sellers” category in France, the writer publishes a new creation, 1991, which marks the return of Franck Sharko, his favorite character.

First a few figures: Franck Thilliez has published twenty novels since 2002. Today, at 47, he is at the top of the “bestsellers” category in France. In the ranking of the best sales of 2020 published by Le Figaro-GfK, it occupied 4th place with 740,000 copies sold. A colossal success that has not changed this engineer by training who fell into the pot of the thriller after the discovery, in 1991, of Jonathan Demme’s film, Thesilenceofthelambs , sumptuous adaptation of the novel by Thomas Harris. Thilliez is this discreet person who continues on his way, followed by Bernard Minier, both heirs of the precursor Jean-Christophe Grangé without whom the French thriller would not exist.

In 2020, Thilliez published the excellent Twice upon a time. And here he is already back with 1991, his latest creation. Not the least exciting since it is the return of Franck Sharko, his favorite character, the one he launched in Hell’s train for Red Angel in 2004, novel followed by ten others. At the start of the series, the policeman in his early forties, and if the author plays the game of aging, like Michael Connelly with Harry Bosch, the time for retirement, or even the nursing home is approaching… The solution for a novelist faced with this problem is to imagine new characters (Mickey Haller and Renée Ballard for Connelly) or to stage their hero in an earlier era.

Perverted treasure hunt

This is the path that Thilliez chose in 1991. At that time, his cop was a rookie who came from the North and landed at the mythical 36, quai des Orfèvres. In addition to the facelift operated on his character, Thilliez also revisits a time when technology was not yet at the rendezvous. Nothing of what makes the everyday life of current detective series – DNA searches, tracing of cellphones, digitization of archives, dissemination of information on social networks and streaming channels, etc. – did not exist then. We are no longer quite in the days of the Borniche cops, but not far.

This slowness of yesteryear inspired Franck Thilliez, who portrays the young Sharko and his team confronted with two cases: that, still unresolved, of the “Disappeared from the south of Paris”, three women kidnapped and killed with knives. And another, in which a perverse treasure hunt leads to a trailer where the police find the body of a decomposing woman. The corpse bears numerous burns. The face is hidden under a paper bag. Near the bed, books and 22 photos of young, naked children. A vast investigation begins to apprehend the author of this abomination.

Fascinated by serial killers, the novelist could not have ignored that in the early 1990s a certain Guy Georges raged, rapist and murderer. From the squats of Goutte-d’Or to Brittany, from Haitian rites to the evocation of the exploits of the magician Houdini, Franck Thilliez once again unrolls the carpet of his imagination to embark us in an incredible story. Where is he going to look for all this, we wonder once again? The only certainty: 1991 is still a success, a high-end vintage thriller. Maestro hat!

1991, by Franck Thilliez, Black River, 500 p., € 22.90. River editions

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