The Syndrome

The Syndrome

4.3 14
by John Case

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A promising research fellow for a venerable think tank in Zurich has just filed his last report, as he is forced into a grisly experiment. . . . A seductive young woman travels to Florida and, from her hotel room window, coolly sharpshoots an old man in a wheelchair as he basks in the late afternoon sun. . . . A psychologist who helps patients confront and dispel past


A promising research fellow for a venerable think tank in Zurich has just filed his last report, as he is forced into a grisly experiment. . . . A seductive young woman travels to Florida and, from her hotel room window, coolly sharpshoots an old man in a wheelchair as he basks in the late afternoon sun. . . . A psychologist who helps patients confront and dispel past trauma through hypnosis battles his own silent demons. . . .  In The Syndrome, John Case combines these intriguing elements into a pulse-pounding, mind-twisting new thriller.

Dr. Jeff Duran suffers from severe panic attacks when he ventures too far outside his home office. At times, he remembers phrases of a foreign language he has never learned. And there are curious memories he cannot explain of distinct smells, music, the spray of ocean sailing. But no sooner do these senses and images begin to surface than they disappear.

Then, after a patient commits suicide, Duran's life spirals out of control. The victim's half-sister, Adrienne Cope, blames Duran for filling her sister's head with "recovered" memories of horrific childhood abuse. But Adrienne soon discovers some shocking facts about him--facts that even he is unaware of.

The stakes are raised when unknown assassins burst into Duran's office and bloodshed ensues. But who is their target: Adrienne or Duran? Running for their very lives, forced to trust each other, they must now work together to unlock the reason why one or both of them is marked for death. For beneath the intrigue lies a dark conspiracy that stretches halfway around the world-- and a sinister plot that could change the course of history.

A relentlessly paced thriller in which nothing is what it seems, no one can be trusted, and nothing is secure--especially one's own memories.  The Syndrome is a chillingly, brilliantly conceived novel from a proven master of suspense.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews
The Barnes & Noble Review
In the follow-up to his bestselling novel The Genesis Code, John Case takes on neurological tampering, programmed assassination, and the erasure of identity. Part medical thriller and part on-the-run action adventure tale, The Syndrome is fueled with high emotion and resonates with moral ambiguity. The author skillfully fuses controversial issues of psychology with a muscular plotline of technology gone awry.

Dr. Jeffrey Duran is an enigma even to himself. The psychologist lives in a high-priced apartment building even though he only has two patients, suffers from agoraphobia that leaves him unable to face the rest of the world, and has peculiar memories of a life he never lived. When one of his mysterious patients, Nico -- who swears she's been hideously abused since childhood by a group of Satanists -- commits suicide, Duran is left in an ethical vacuum, unsure of who he is or what role he played in her death.

Nico's half sister, Adrienne Cope, immediately suspects that Duran is the cause of her sister's suicide. Adrienne knows that Nico was never molested, and she believes that Duran implanted false memories in Nico for some unknown reason. She hires a P.I. to investigate Duran and soon learns that nothing about the man is true: not where he grew up, not where he attended medical school, not even his name. When she confronts him with these facts, Duran is as much at a loss as Adrienne. Before long the two are set upon by assassins and forced to go on the run together until they discover who Duran truly is, why his mind was tampered with, and what deadly assignments he carried out.

"John Case" is the pseudonym for the husband-and-wife team Jim and Carolyn Hougan. The authors know how to create a chilling atmosphere that leaves the reader mystified but intrigued, wondering what the next revelation will be. The bizarre scenes of Duran giving his patients "therapy" are genuinely creepy, disclosing just enough about the unusual plot to keep us turning pages to find out more. The novel is propelled by the enigmatic situations layered one on top of the other, nurturing the suspense to razor sharpness. The narrative passes by at high speed while the mystery grows ever more complex and twisted. The Syndrome engages the senses, keeping to a perfect blend of reality and science fiction and allowing for a believable story that never falls into stock circumstances.

Case again proves capable of turning out not only a compelling thriller, but also an inventive story that transcends the biotech suspense genre and works as a convincing novel that will leave the reader awestruck and praying this is only fiction. (Tom Piccirilli)

Tom Piccirilli is the author of eight novels, including Hexes and Shards, and his Felicity Grove mystery series, consisting of The Dead Past and Sorrow's Crown. He has sold more than 100 stories to the anthologies Future Crimes, Bad News, The Conspiracy Files, and Best of the American West II. An omnibus collection of 40 stories titled Deep into That Darkness Peering is also available. Tom divides his time between New York City and Estes Park, Colorado.

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The always intriguing Case (The Genesis Code; The First Horseman) poses another troubling question for the ages in his latest biospeculative thriller. Just what happened to the U.S. government's secret mind-control experiments of the 1960s? In this diverting fictional juggernaut, a shadowy private enterprise, the Prudhomme Clinic, took over where the government left off. It is now kidnapping people, wiping their memories clean and turning them into assassins who target international leaders whom the Prudhomme believes are destabilizing world order. The whole operation, however, is jeopardized when one recreated human, Jeff Duran, manages to break the spell and start questioning who he is, and more importantly, who he was before a computer chip was implanted in his brain. He teams up in his quest with Adrienne Cope, a Washington, D.C., lawyer who has been baffled by the suicide of her sister, who, unbeknownst to Adrienne, was one of the Prudhomme's most skilled killers. Soon after the two begin poking around, they find their lives are in peril. They begin a frantic search for information, dodging attempts on their lives and making one bone-chilling discovery after another. They ultimately find themselves rushing off to Switzerland not only to confront the Prudhomme's leader, but to save the life of Nelson Mandela, who has been targeted for assassination. Explanations of the history and techniques of mind-control experiments as well as the psychology of amnesia add a realistic overlay to what otherwise might have been a fairly formulaic thriller. Case, revealed here for the first time to be the husband-and-wife writing team of Jim and Carolyn Hougan of Virginia, shows the sort of sure-handed storytelling that made their first two books such hot sellers. National ad campaign; author appearances in Washington, D.C., and Baltimore. (May 1) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In this psych-tech thriller, clinical psychologist Jeff Duran confronts unknown killers and identity thieves after one of his patients commits suicide. His patient's attorney-sister, Adrienne, suspicious of the suicide's circumstances and Duran's credibility as a psychologist, hires a private detective to investigate. The PI's murder and attempts on Jeff's and Adrienne's lives unite them against a conspiracy involving brain implants and political crimes. Dick Hill's engrossing reading is marred by undertones that become inaudible in an automobile and inconsistency in Adrienne's voice. Still, recommended where The X-Files is popular. Sandy Glover, West Linn P.L., OR Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Husband-and-wife writing team Jim and Carolyn Hougan have done good work under the Case pseudonym (The First Horseman, 1998, etc.), but they stumble here with an overlong thriller about brain implants and other mind-boggling developments. Lew McBride is about to have his head handed to him with a certain little something added. It's called a "neurophonic prosthesis," and, in effect, it renders him lame-brained, the robotized tool of a collection of mysterious bad guys. There he was, a brilliant young psychological researcher (handsome, too) in Zurich to confer with the directors of the Prudhomme Clinic about his grant—and the next thing you know evil people have him strapped to a chair and are hovering over him with needles and other sharp things, preparing his face for "degloving." (Don't ask.) When he wakes he's no longer Lew McBride, nor is he in Zurich. He's now Dr. Jeff Duran, a clinical psychologist in New York with only two patients—both, as it turns out, fellow automatons. So what's it all about? Mind control, yes, but to what end? With the aid of the equally brilliant (beautiful, too) Adrienne Cope, Lew/Jeff begins the painfully slow process of reclaiming his identity and unraveling the fiendish conspiracy that he's an unwilling part of. In the process, he learns about a secret government licensed-to-kill program, rooted in WWII counterintelligence that had as its targets such heinous types as Hitler and Mussolini. He also learns about the Jericho Project, an updated version of Assassinations R Us, but with targets dear to the hearts of hate-mongering bigots. Fistfights, gun-fights, and disappearing corpses offer only patches of excitement before the trail finallyleads back to Zurich for the obligatory slam-bang finish and lover's clinch. Strip off the biomedical razzle-dazzle, and what's left is old-hat megalomaniac melodrama.
From the Publisher
“A TOP-NOTCH YARN . . . THE ALWAYS-INTRIGUING JOHN CASE IS BACK. . . . Filled with fascinating details on the research and history of behavior control, The Syndrome delivers the thrills.”
Chicago Tribune

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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Read an Excerpt

June 16, 1996

It wasn't the Grande Jatte. Not exactly. It wasn't even the afternoon. Not quite. But it felt that way--just like the picture--as if nothing could ever go wrong. The placid park. The bright and dozy day. The neon-blue lake,
shimmering in the breeze.

Lew McBride was on a long run through the narrow park that follows the shoreline of the Zurichsee from busy Bellevueplatz out to the sub-urbs.
He'd already gone about three miles, and was on his way back, jog-ging through the dappled shade, thinking idly of Seurat.

The pointillist's great canvas was peopled with respectable-looking men in top hats, docile children, and women in bustles carrying parasols. But the age it captured was two world wars ago, before Seinfeld, the Internet,
and "ethnic cleansing." People were different now, and so were Sunday af-ternoons (even, or especially, when they were the same).

To begin with, it seemed as if half the girls he saw were on cell-phones,
Rollerblades, or both. They had pierced navels and mischievous eyes, and cruised, giggling, past kids with soccer balls, dozing "guest-workers," and lovers making out in the lush grass. The air was fresh from the Alps, sunny, cool and sweet, its soft edge tainted now and then with whiffs of marijuana.

He liked Zurich. Being there gave him a chance to practice his German.
It was the first language he'd studied, chosen in high school be-cause he'd had a crush on an exchange student. Later, he'd acquired Spanish,
picked up a little French, and even some Creole, but German was first--thanks to Ingrid. He smiled at the thought of her--Ingrid of the amazing body--cruising past a marina where sailboats rocked at their moorings, halyards clanking.

He could barely hear them. He had the volume turned up on his Walkman, listening to Margo Timmons sing an old Lou Reed song about someone called

". . . Jane . . .
Sweet Jane . . ."

Music, books, and running were McBride's secret nicotine and, without them, he became restless and unhappy. They were the reason he did not own (could not afford) a sailboat--which he wanted very much. His apartment in San Francisco was a testament to these obses-sions. Near the windows, the stereo and the oversized sofa, stacks of books and CDs stood like dolmens: blues, mornas, DeLillo, and opera. Konpa, rock, and gospel. Chatwin on Patagonia, Ogburn on Shake-speare. And a dozen books on chess, which McBride would rather read about than play (except,
perhaps, in Haiti, where he and Petit Pierre sometimes sat for hours in the Oloffson, hunched over a battered chess-board, sipping rum).

Thinking about it made him miss it--the place, the chess, his friends . . .

As he ran, he glanced at his wristwatch and, seeing the time, picked up the pace. He had about an hour and twenty minutes until his ap-pointment at the Institute, and he didn't like to be late. (In fact,
being late drove him crazy.)

Headquartered in Kuessnacht, about twenty minutes from McBride's hotel, the Institute of Global Studies was a small, but venerable, think tank funded by old money flowing from tributaries on both sides of the Atlantic. Like so many foundations established in the aftermath of the Second World War, the Institute was dedicated to the idea--the vague and elusive idea--of world peace. Toward that end, it hosted con-ferences and awarded fellowships each year to a handful of brilliant youths whose research interests coincided with the
Foundation's own.

These included topics as diverse as "the rise of paramilitary formations in Central Africa," "Islam and the Internet," "Deforestation in Nepal,"
and McBride's own study--which concerned the therapeutic compo-nents of animist religions. With the Cold War a thing of the past, the
Foundation's directors had formed the opinion that future conflicts would be "low-intensity" struggles fueled, in most cases, by ethnic and religious differences.

With advanced degrees in clinical psychology and modern history, McBride had been traveling for nearly two years. During that time, he'd produced reports on, among other things, the mass-conversion tech-niques of faith healers in Brazil, the induction of trance states in Haitian voodoo ceremonies, and the role of "forest herbs" in the rites of Candomble.

Two of these reports had been published in the New York Times Maga-zine, and this had led to a book contract. In three months, his fellowship would be up for renewal and, after thinking it over, he'd decided to take a pass. He was a little tired of living out of suitcases, and ready to focus on writing a book.
And since the Foundation had summoned him to Zurich for their annual
"chat," it was the perfect opportunity to let them know of his decision in advance.

All of which was just another way of saying that life was good-- and getting better. If McBride's meeting went as planned, he could catch the six o'clock flight to London, arriving in time for dinner with Jane herself--the real Jane, whom he hadn't seen in months.

"Sweet Jane, Sweet Jane . . ."

It was this prospect that spurred his pace, so that he got back to his hotel--the Florida--nearly ten minutes earlier than he'd expected. This gave him plenty of time to shower, shave, and dress, as well as to pack his only bag--a canvas duffel that had seen better days.

His meeting was with the Foundation's Director, Gunnar Opdahl, a wealthy and cosmopolitan Norwegian surgeon who had given up medi-cine for philanthropy. Having spoken with Opdahl by telephone from California,
McBride knew that the director wanted him to re-up for a third year. He was glad that he had this opportunity to meet with Opdahl face-to-face.
It would give him the chance to discuss the reasons behind his decision to leave, while at the same time expressing his gratitude to the

And, while he was at it, he could visit Jane on the way home.

The Institute was headquartered in a turn-of-the-century townhouse, a brooding pile of granite built by a Swiss industrialist who had later hanged himself from a chandelier in the foyer (damaging it in the process). The building was three stories tall, with mullioned windows and wavy antique glass. There were copper gutters with gargoyles at the downspouts, a trio of chimneys poking through the tiled roof, and half a dozen window boxes, dripping with flowers.

A small brass plaque beside the massive front door declared the Foundation's identity in German, French, and English. Above the leaded glass transom, a closed-circuit television camera stared down as he rang the doorbell once, twice, and--

"Lew!" The door swung open, and Gunnar Opdahl surged into view,
eclipsing the room behind him. Taller even than the six foot one
McBride, the Institute's director was impeccably dressed in an expensive business suit that had a hand-tailored look, and a Hermes tie that
McBride recognized from the duty free shops at Heathrow.

Rangy yet solidly built, the fiftyish Opdahl moved with the grace and languor of an aging athlete--which, in fact, he was, having won a bronze medal in the downhill decades earlier. It came up in conversation one time--the strange coincidence that McBride's father had medalled in the same Games
(Sapporo, 1972), taking a silver in the biathlon (the first American ever to place in the event). Opdahl had winced good-naturedly,
complaining that "Norway owns the biathlon--at least, we're supposed to!"

Now, Opdahl shook his hand and clapped a friendly arm around McBride's shoulder. "So how was your trip?" he asked. "No problems?" The older man ushered McBride inside, then pushed the door shut be-hind them.

"A little jet lag," McBride replied. "But, no. The flight was fine."

"And the Florida?" Opdahl asked, looking bemused as he took McBride's duffel and set it beside the door.

"The Florida's great!"

Opdahl chuckled. "Large rooms, yes. But, great? I don't think so."

McBride laughed. "Well, it's cheap, anyway."

Opdahl shook his head, and clucked. "Next time, stay at the Zum Storchen, and let the Foundation worry about the money. I've told you: that's what we do!"

McBride made a gesture that was something between a shrug and a nod, and glanced around. The Institute's quarters were more or less as he remembered them, with Persian carpets scattered across the marble floors, coffered ceilings and oak wainscotting, oil paintings of flowers and landscapes, and a scattering of blond PCs on antique wooden desks.

Though he'd only been to the Institute twice before, he was surprised to find its headquarters so quiet. Noticing that surprise, Opdahl clapped him on the shoulder, and gestured toward the stairs. "There's just us!"
he exclaimed, leading the way.

"Really?" "Of course. It's Saturday! No one comes to work on Saturday--except the boss. And that's only because I don't have a choice!"

"Why not?" McBride asked, as they began to mount the steps. "If you're 'the boss'--"

"Because I live here," Opdahl told him.

They ascended the stairs in tandem, heading toward the third floor.
"I always assumed you lived in the city," McBride remarked.

Opdahl shook his head, and winced. "No. This is . . . what do you say? 'My home-away-from-home.' " He paused on the landing, and turned to ex-plain. "My wife lives in Oslo--hates Switzerland. Says it's too bourgeois." "Well," McBride said, "that's its charm."

"Of course, but--one can't argue these things."

"And your children?"

"All over the place. One boy's at Harvard, another's in Dubai. Daughter's in Rolle."

"School?" "Mmmnn. I spend half my life on airplanes, rocketing through the void."

"And the rest of the time?"

Opdahl flashed a grin, and resumed climbing. "The rest of the time I'm raising money for the Foundation, or sticking pins in maps, trying to keep track of people like you."

It was McBride's turn to smile and, as they climbed, he made a joke about being breathless. "I thought there was an elevator," he remarked.

"There is, but I don't like to use it on weekends," Opdahl replied. "If there were a power failure . . . well, you can imagine."

On his previous visits, McBride had met with Opdahl and his assis-tants in a conference room on the second floor--so he was at least mildly curious about the living quarters overhead. Arriving on the third floor,
they came to a door that seemed entirely out of keeping with the build-ing they were in. Made of steel rather than wood, it was unusually thick and sported a brushed aluminum keypad that governed its opening.

Opdahl punched three or four numbers, and the door sprung open with a metallic click. The foundation director rolled his eyes. "Ugly, isn't it?"

"Well, it's . . . big," McBride remarked.

Opdahl chuckled. "The previous tenants were a private bank," he explained. "From what I've heard about their clientele, a big door was probably well advised."

The office itself was large and comfortable, brightly lighted and fur-nished in a modern style--unlike the rooms below. There was a wall of books and a leather sofa. A Plexiglas coffee table was laden with a silver tray that held a steaming pot of tea, two cups and saucers, milk and sugar,
and a little pile of madeleines.

"Tea?" Opdahl asked.

McBride nodded--"Please"--and walked to the windows behind the desk, where he marveled at the view. Seen through the trees, the lake was the color of
Windex, and glittered like broken glass. "Spectacular," he said.

Opdahl acknowledged the compliment with a tilt of his head, pouring the while.

"Just a little milk," McBride replied. And, then, noticing the computer on the director's desk, he cocked his head and frowned.

"Where's the A-drive?" he asked.

"What's an 'A-drive'?"

"For your floppies."

"Oh, that!" Opdahl replied. "There isn't one."

McBride was genuinely puzzled. "How come?"

Opdahl shrugged. "We like to keep our data confidential and, this way, we can be sure it stays in-house." He handed McBride a cup of tea and, sitting down behind the desk, gestured for the young American to take a seat on the couch. Then he sipped, and exclaimed, "So!" A pause. "You've been doing a wonderful job!"

"Well . . . thanks," McBride replied.

"I mean it, Lewis. I know how difficult it can be to work in places like Haiti. They're filthy, and if you don't know what you're doing, they can be dangerous."

"I got my shots."

"Still . . ." Opdahl leaned forward, and cleared his throat. "You must be wondering what this is all about. . . ."

McBride shifted in his seat, and smiled. "Not really," he said. "I just assumed.
The fellowship ends in a couple of months. . . ."

Opdahl nodded in a way that confirmed the observation even as he dismissed its relevance. "Well, yes, you're right--of course, but . . . that's not the reason you're here."

"No?" McBride gave him a puzzled look.

"No." A whirring sound came from the hall outside the office and, hearing it, the two men looked in its direction.

"Is that the elevator?" McBride asked.

The director nodded, his brow creasing in a frown.


"It's one of the staff," Opdahl supposed. "He probably forgot something." Then the whirring stopped, and they could hear the doors rolling back. A moment later, there was a knock. "Would you mind?" the director asked,
gesturing toward the door.

McBride frowned. Hadn't Opdahl said, "There's just us"? And something about not using the elevator. But he did as he was asked. "No problem," he said, and, getting to his feet, stepped to the door and opened it.

There was only a fraction of a second to take things in, and no time at all to make sense of it. What he saw was this: a man in surgical scrubs with a gas mask over his face. Then a cloud of spray, and the floor rising toward him. A shower of lights. Darkness.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

John Case is the pseudonym of an award-winning investigative reporter and the author of the New York Times bestseller The Genesis Code and The First Horseman, as well as two nonfiction books about the U.S. intelligence community. He lives in Afton, Virginia.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Syndrome 4.3 out of 5 based on 1 ratings. 14 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This novel was intelligent, fast-paced, and extremely hard to put down. I read this in 5 hours and I probably would have read it in a lot less time had I not been interuppted. It leads you through a web of deceit, conspiracy and triumph. Mind control is used to the extreme in this book, It is hard to tell who is telling the truth until the end. I highly recommend this book to any one who reads.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
John Case once again proves that he is an unknown in the world of thriller fiction, but those of us that have discovered him are most grateful we did. His literary pearls and quick descriptive mosaics are mind blowing.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Leave it to John Case to come up with yet another well told scientific thriller. I was disappointed when my commute ended and I had to close my book until it was time to go home.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I first read The Genesis Code and was so entertained and enthralled by it that I had to read more. So I read the duo's other book The First Horseman, which was somewhat disappointing. But then I heard they had another book released, I read it and was not let down this time! If you decide to read the first chapter or so you better free your calendar for the next fews nights, also, because I can guarantee you'll be wishing you had stayed home and read if you decide to do something else!
harstan More than 1 year ago
In Washington DC, Adrienne Cope blames clinical therapist Dr. Jeffrey Duran for the suicide death of her half-sister Nicole Sullivan. She hires a private sleuth, Bonilla, to investigate Duran. He learns that the real Duran died several years ago at the age of two and that the good doctor never went to Brown or Wisconsin Universities as he claims. When confronted Jeff is stunned and thinks Adrienne is a quack and Bonilla a professional forger. However, he follows up and sees evidence that leaves him shaken. He takes a lie detector test that proves he believes he is Dr. Jeff Duran.

Not long afterwards, Adrienne asks to see Nico¿s file, but nothing is inside stunning Jeff further. Two individuals claiming to be detectives arrive and Bonilla challenges their credentials. One of the phony cops kills his partner and Bonilla, but Adrienne and Jeff escape, which is not easy for him as he suffers from agoraphobia. As they try to learn the truth, they are targeted for death by a conspiracy that threatens the future course of the world.

THE SYNDROME is an exciting thriller that never slows down on the accelerator. The key to the novel is the reactions of the cast which seem so genuine they take the story line to incredible levels of entertainment. John Case, known for THE GENESIS CODE, employs the concept of whether a person¿s memories are real or borrowed implants as the basis for a fabulous novel that will garner the writing team many new readers and accolades.

Harriet Klausner