January 31, 2012

Rabid Reads: 'The Placebo Effect' by David Rotenberg

The Placebo Effect (Junction Chronicles Book One)
by David Rotenberg
Touchstone (an imprint of Simon & Schuster Canada, 2012)
338 pages
ISBN 9781439170113 (trade paperback)

I imagine being a human lie detector would have its perks. It would sure help figuring out who left the milk out on the kitchen counter! Sorry. Pet peeve. It'd have its drawbacks, too. I just wouldn't have put money on one of those drawbacks being NSA agents chasing you down. That's one of Decker Roberts' big problems, but it's one of many.

Decker is an acting coach, but his real gift comes from the strange ability to literally see whether people are telling the truth through visual cues when his eyes are closed. It's not so much that his Spidey senses tingle when someone lies, but he just innately knows when the guy is being truthful or not. It's not a talent he gets to use at parties, but it's a real hit in the corporate world. So, when Decker's bank accounts are emptied, his line of credit is tampered with, and his house burns down, Decker suspects one of his clients has decided he knows too much.

If that's not bad enough, an agent from the NSA has hunted him down as part of a clandestine program to study and exploit synaesthates (where one of the senses like sight gets a few wires crossed with another) like Decker. Then there's the issue of a shady pharmaceutical executive with a new drug due to hit the market and the idiot savant who helped him do it is seeking out Decker, too. Just paint a big bulls-eye on the poor guy's back--or brain might be the more apt body part.

The Placebo Effect is certainly unique in the thriller genre. This whole idea of the human senses being mish-mashed in a way was intriguing, and this version Rotenberg employs with his character, Decker, is something I have never heard of before. I had to wonder at times while reading if it was a complete device of the author's imagination, but I guess there's some legitimacy to it. And the whole corporate espionage and corruption is completely believable and easy to get into.

Some of the suspense was diminished for me though, because the villain is identified rather quickly, so it's less about solving the mystery through Decker's eyes, but just watching him sweat. Where the mystery is lost, the dialog is great, and the subplot of Decker's estranged son was probably the most compelling part of the whole novel. His son wants nothing to do with him and uses Decker's best friend to communicate with him--and hit him up for money.

Decker is a riveting character thrust into a less-than-riveting story. The book works as a stand-alone even though it's the first of a new series, but the pieces didn't feel like they fit as well as they should, even when the disparate plotlines merge towards the end of the book. It does everything it sets out to do, but the longer it went the more it felt like a standard cat-and-mouse chase. It was a pretty good ride, but I don't know how quickly I'll run out to read the second book in the series.


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