home     authors     titles     dates     links     about


22 july 2022

Régression is The Clan of the Cave Bear meets The Da Vinci Code meets French police procedurals like those by Sophie Hénaff, where murders are investigated by task forces of dozens of eccentric characters who fuss around saying arch and hurtful things to one another.

In alternating chapters, Fabrice Papillon shows vignettes of legendary moments in the Western past, snips of the lives (and deaths) of Homer, Socrates, Jesus. These icons are connected to human ancestors out of paleoanthropology via some vast arcane network of descent and connections. Meanwhile, in the present day, gruesome serial ritual cannibal murders crop up here and there around the Mediterranean basin.

I bought Régression to read on an airplane, and that is its natural habitat. The component elements are preposterous, but Papillon delivers them with gusto and suspense. Our attractive central character is Vannina Aquaviva, a young Corsican gendarme of eldritch propensities who, early on, learns that she must share the investigation of the Corsican entry in the murder series with Marc Brunier, a much older Maigret-like Paris police inspector who has exiled himself to the island after a tragic mishandling of a case back home. We learn a lot about their fraught pasts as they stumble into the incredible complications of the murders, where their guide is a smart-aleck academic named "Zim" Marceau, sort of the Robert Langdon of the case.

Régression sweeps together all kinds of items from popular science and popular cultural history, and builds a potboiler of a story around them – again, much like Dan Brown's thrillers. Even if you are reasonably familiar with every element of the mixture, you are unlikely to have dreamed of compiling them and telling a story with the resulting structure, so surprises await in each new short chapter. Papillon himself writes popular science books, and has one previous suspense novel (Le Dernier Hyver, 2017) to his credit, along similar lines. A third novel, Alienés, appeared last year. They do not seem to have been translated, into English anyway, but I think they'd find readers if they were.

Papillon, Fabrice. Régression. N.p.: Belfond, 2019.