Jean-Christophe Grangé

"The Empire of the Wolves"

(Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie JAN 16, 2005)

"These paintings came in groups of three. The first, entitled Three Studies of the Human Head, was dated 1953. Livid, blue, cadaverous faces bore traces of their first wounds. The second triptych seemed like a natural continuation, breaking through into a higher level of violence. Study for Three Heads, 1962. White faces shifted away from the viewer, the better to return and display their scars beneath a clown's makeup. Strangely, these wounds seemed to be trying to raise a laugh, like the children who were disfigured in the Middle Ages in order to forever turn them into clowns and buffoons." 

"Anna moved on. She did not recognize her hallucinations. She was simply surrounded by masks of horror. Their mouths, cheekbones and stares spun around, twisting their deformities into unbearable spirals. The painter had clearly been relentless with these faces. He had attacked them, sliced them up with the sharpest weapons. Brushes, spatulas, knives...he opened their wounds, flaying their skins, ripping into their cheeks..."

The Empire of the Wolves by Jean Christophe Grange

Author Jean-Christophe Grange has come up with a real page-turner in The Empire Of The Wolves, his fourth book. This novel noir is a terrific suspense thriller which delves into contemporary Turkish politics, exploited Turkish immigrant workers in Europe, the ins-and outs of the French police system, neurological research and experimentation, plastic surgery, serial killers, amnesia, and memory erasure or distortion. Grange, a former reporter, demonstrates his journalistic background with his attention to detail and the depth of his research. The plot is somewhat reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock's work, featuring a woman with memory problems, a tendency to hallucinate and scientific experimentation with the human brain. A fast-paced narrative, quick, accurate character sketches, very descriptive, almost graphic, prose, and offbeat settings add to the novel's drama and uniqueness.

Anna Helms, a lovely Parisian woman and wife of a senior police official, has been having serious neurological problems. She experiences temporary loss of memory, hallucinations and intense panic attacks. Sometimes she fails to recognize her own husband, and at others she feels she knows people she has never met. Both her neurologist, (a shady character), and her husband believe Anna may have a brain lesion. However, Anna will not allow them to take cortical tissue from her brain for a biopsy. She slowly begins to piece her life together, the parts she can recall, and nothing adds up. As she searches for her identity, Anna becomes more suspicious. Finally, Anna seeks alternate medical help.

Simultaneously, in the same city, a vicious serial murderer is at work terrorizing the Turkish immigrant population. Three corpses have been discovered, all redheaded Turkish females, all workers from the same sweatshop, all brutally disfigured. Two French police detectives are at work on the case. Paul Nerteaux, is a good cop, dedicated, who has a real vocation for detective work. He brings a renegade cop back from retirement to assist with this case. Schiffer, called "The Cipher" or "Mr. Steel," has broken all the rules too many times to count. However, he has an in-depth knowledge of Paris' Turkish community. They discover that "The Gray Wolves," an extreme right-wing, Turkish nationalist group may be behind the murders. All twisting, turning points converge, explosively, in the brooding nighttime streets of Paris and the winding walkways of Istanbul. 

Grange's writing is spare and superb. His characters are all unusual, even the dead ones - the victims. And most have backgrounds steeped in violence. Yet Grange doesn't allow his readers to acclimate to the bloodshed or the brutality. The descriptions of the murders are quite graphic, so this is not a book for the faint-of-heart. Some of the scenes are haunting, others nightmarish. And the ambiance is dark, murky, almost surreal at times. Overall, I am so impressed by The Empire Of The Wolves that I plan to look for some of the author's other titles. Highly recommended.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 4 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from The Empire of the Wolves at HarperCollins.com



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About the Author:

author photoJean-Christophe Grange was born in Paris in 1961. He worked with magazines all over the world, as well as with various press agencies, newspapers and magazines, before setting up his own news agency.

Although his first novel was basically unnoticed, his second novel, Blood-Red Rivers, became a huge bestseller in France and has since been made into a film, The Crimson Rivers, directed by Mathieu Kassovitz and starring Jean Reno and Vincent Cassel.

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