Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Junction Chronicles #1

The Placebo Effect

Rate this book
The first book in a new series starring an acting teacher with a surprising talent.

Decker Roberts has the dangerous gift of detecting the truth. Only his closest friends know, and he keeps his identity secret from the companies that pay him to tell them if the people they are planning to hire are truthful. But Decker’s carefully compartmentalized life starts to fall apart. His house burns down, his credit cards are cancelled, his bank loan is called, and his studio is condemned. He realized that he must have heard something in one of his “truth telling” sessions that someone didn’t want him to know. Decker has to go on the run and figure out why he’s been targeted. There’s also a government agent hunting him who seems to know absolutely everything about Decker Roberts’ identities—real and false—and other people of “his kind.”

How will Decker find out which truth was endangering his life? Who betrayed him and revealed all his secrets? Decker needs to find answers quickly, before knowing the truth turns from a gift into a deadly curse.

352 pages, Hardcover

First published February 7, 2012

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

David Rotenberg

15 books15 followers
David Rotenberg has been a master acting teacher for over 20 years. He has directed on Broadway, in many major regional theatres, for television, and he has published six novels, including the Zhong Fong detective series, all of which are available at your local bookstore or online. The series is in the process of being optioned for film.

David has taught at York University, the National Theatre School of Canada, the Shanghai Theatre Academy, the University of Cape Town, and Princeton. He regularly teaches professional classes in Montreal, Vancouver and Halifax. He directed the first Canadian play in the People's Republic of China. Most recently, David has directed at Penn State University and at York University, where he adapted and directed a stage version of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.

The roster of his students reads like a who's who in ranks of Canadian actors, including Scott Speedman, Rachel McAdams, James McGowan, Polly Shannon, David Hirsh, Jonas Chernick and Shawn Doyle. His unique techniques are used by actors in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, South Africa and the People's Republic of China.

Like him on Facebook here: http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Pla...

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
10 (7%)
4 stars
48 (34%)
3 stars
48 (34%)
2 stars
23 (16%)
1 star
12 (8%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 46 reviews
Profile Image for Brittany.
160 reviews8 followers
April 19, 2013
I won this book for free from the Goodread's First Reads giveaway.

If the website would allow, I would of rated this book a 2.75/5 (It was generally ok).

Some of the reasons I enjoyed this book are:
- The author had a great idea on a plot. I really wanted to win this book based on the summary listed on this website.
- The main character, Decker Roberts, was a likeable character. His synaesthesia gift of knowing if people were telling the truth was interesting.
- The book was mostly based in Canada; as a Canadian I obviously enjoyed that aspect of the book.

Some of the difficulties I found with the book were:
- Many parts of the book, especially at the beginning of some chapters, seemed to drag out too long with talk of nonsense. The nonsense I speak of is ramblings that seem to have nothing to do with the book at all.
- The author had such a great idea for a plot. I was surprised that I wasn't really interested in the book as I should be. It was really hard to get involved into it until about half way through and that only lasted for a few chapters, then I was bored again.
- There was an abundance of characters that made no sense to me. They could of easily been excluded from the book and the book would of been better as this would speed things up. (i.e, Theo, Leena, Garreth Jr, Garreth Sr, and Emerson). Maybe they will make more sense in the next book in the series but they really did not need to be in this one.
- I also wanted to add that Seth is a douche, and Eddie is a sleaze. The only character I really cared for was Decker.
- And just out of curosity, why didn't the NSA just hire Decker instead of stalk him? It did not make a lot of sense to me.

Overall, the book had some good parts to it and some I did not care for. I do believe this a book that many people will enjoy, it just wasn't my style.
Profile Image for Jackleen.
250 reviews
February 13, 2012
Four and a half stars

The new novel The Placebo Effect, book one of The Junction Chronicles by David Rotenberg, Canadian thriller with Canadian locations and Canadian humor, is a very thought provoking smart story in addition to being a fast paced action packed adventure crossing from one end of North America to the other. As you are aware I love reading Canadian and was happy to have won this book, a story which I very much enjoyed, from Simon and Schuster in a first reads Goodreads contest. With a cast of colourful characters, and a truly fascinating concept hook, the story addresses the repercussions of always knowing the truth about strangers while at the same time never being unable to understand or read those closest to us.

The colourful troupe of characters are well drawn and everything you would expect in a good thriller and yet incredibly unique and interesting. What will distinguish a really good book from a mediocre book, for me at least, are the characters, particularly if the main character stands out in my mind. And, Decker definitely stands out. Even if I do not always like Decker, he did manage to get inside my head, if not always my heart. Decker is so well formed that I would expect to find him wandering about the Junction. Decker Roberts is a synaesthete who receives visual clues in front of his closed eyes to distinguish between the truth and a lie. Yslan Hicks is in charge of the file for synaesthesia for a secret government organization and is hunting Decker down; Yslan would very much want to investigate, if not apply, Dickers skills. Emerson Remi is a Princeton educated journalist in hot pursuit of the next big story for which he believes Yslan to be the key and is busy tracking Yslan’s every movement. Henry-Clay Yolles is a pharmaceutical executive on the surface but in reality a gangster complete with hit men, on the brink of making a huge amount of money from the production of a new antidepressant drug and who to his absolute delight has found out about the synaesthetes network and is busy taking full advantage of this secret knowledge. Mike, ratio-man is a synaesthete whose talent of being able to determine the correct balance and ratio for anything, is coerced into working for Yolles Pharmaceuticals by Henry-Clay, and in doing so has exposed the synaesthetes world. Mac Macmillan is a thug and hit man of Henry-Clay whose latest job is to take out Mike and then, Decker who both know too much. Eddie is Deckers best friend and confidant who manages Deckers real life and keeps in contact with Seth, Deckers estranged son. Seth is sick and suffering alone with cancer but wanting absolutely nothing to do with his father.

The story is delivered in short quick sections from third POV from all the above characters and their divergent storylines flow neatly into each other. The writing is crisp, direct and concise and together with the structure of short chapters and the rapid shift between characters, the story maintains a fast pace.

The settings for the book of both Canadian and American cities are very well described. Although I have never been to most of the American cities described, I can say that Rotenberg’s’ description of Toronto was right on the money. The Junction in particular was brought to life in full colour and is both evocative and moody. (Clusters of churches guarding evil right in the middle of the Junction, I will be on the next train out!) I grew up in the Eastern Townships of Quebec and he caught the mood and tone of Stanstead perfectly; a small town inundated with tourists and outsiders for whom the townies must give way. (Don’t we know it.)

Decker Roberts is a human lie detector. He is blessed, or cursed depending on point of view, with the ability to tell if a person is speaking the truth, due to a condition called synaesthesia. (This is a real medical condition that can sometimes be found to develop after head injuries, and reasons unknown, in which a person’s neurological pathway of the senses for vision, hearing, smell, touch and taste get scrambled. So a person with synaesthesia sees what he tastes or hears what he touches.) Decker sees patterns before his eyes when someone speaks to him and these patterns change shape when someone is lying. This skill is limited as he is unable to use this skill with people he truly cares about. Decker in his normal job is an acting teacher. Working as an acting coach, he teaches young actors to reach for the emotions and feelings within themselves and apply these to the character they are to portray in film or on stage. On the side and in secret, Decker has been applying his lie detection skill in the corporate world and making a great deal of money. Decker’s world begins to unravel when his house is burned down, his credit cards cancelled and the building from which he leases a studio for his acting classes is condemned. It seems Decker may have uncovered a truth better left buried. Now he is trying to back track through his latest truth detecting jobs to determine who is out to get him. With Yslan, Remi, Mike and Mac following in Dickers’ wake, the race is on, but the truth for Decker is unusually elusive.

The underlying themes of The Placebo Effect, are in fact about the placebo effect both in medicine and generalized to our popular culture. First, let us review a quick definition of the placebo effect. A placebo is an inert medicine or treatment used in what is called double blind medical studies in order to measure the true effectiveness of a new drug or medical treatment. Double blind just means neither doctor/nurse nor patient know if they received the real medication so that the results are not influenced either way. The placebo effect is a beneficial effect, produced by a placebo drug or treatment, that cannot be attributed to the properties of the placebo itself, and must therefore be due to the patient's belief in that treatment. In other words, patients will improve given any medication or treatment due to their (blind?) faith and belief that the doctor or the medicine will make them better. In short a placebo is a fake, artificial, a lie. Rotenberg is efficient at pointing out all manners of things that are placebos and fake and weaves this theme through the backdrop of The Placebo Effect. Decker like many people in our North American society has lost faith, faith in him, and faith in others. As Decker believes that he harms those closest to him when he uses his gift of lie detection, he keeps a distance from others. Decker is lonely. He really has only one friend and a few acquaintances that he meets through his job as an acting coach. His wife is dead, he and his son are estranged and he maintains a very superficial relationship with all he meets. There is a network website for synaesthetes run by Yslan in order to study and keep track of these special people. Decker only feels good when he is in the chat room of the synaesthetes site connecting with people with similar traits to him. A social media site, in short, a social placebo, his new faith, to which even on the run from killers, Decker will log into in order to feel good.

This extremely interesting novel concept of being able to distinguish the truth from a lie carries the whole story. As a basic thriller recipe, The Placebo Effect starts with the mandatory fast paced exciting story, mix in the type cast sad lonely good guy and evil corporate guy turned evil scientist guys, sprinkle in the mysterious government agencies, and add all the running about that we expect from a good thriller, at the bare bones the story is all ready well on to being a wonderful book. The icing with all those sugary sprinkles that the kids like is the commentary that Rotenberg adds to this story. We are given an examination of our society from the point of view of Rotenberg, a man who has spent many years directing and teaching in the acting business. A business based on fabrications and illusions. Rotenberg’s insights into the current influence of pop culture are very revealing if not dead on. Those sugary sprinkles are the insightful examination of what is real and true in our lives, family and friends in which we can invest our faith and belief, as opposed the false, pretend, placebo pop culture that has infiltrated North American.

My only complaint is that there is a lot thrown into the mix, some of it brilliant, some of it distracting. I admit to be confused and lost at points in the story. To be honest I am not sure all the threads got tied off at the end or if I missed something or if I am just to find out that bit within the ongoing story of the series. But, who said reading is suppose to be easy. But, whether it was me not being able to keep up or the manner of the delivery, I docked the book a half star.

Thrillers are usually fun to read and there is a lot that can be learned from this genre. James Rollins has taught me much about quantum physics and when reading John LeCarre I gain a better understanding of the state of the world politically. Rotenberg has done something completely new and unexpected; he has included a thread of philosophy about life, faith and love and the North American culture in general. I am looking forward to the next book in the Junction Chronicles, A Murder of Crows.
For More see my blog http://jackleenslibrary.blogspot.com/
Profile Image for Jessica.
157 reviews3 followers
January 30, 2013
First off: I received this book free through first reads (thanks Simon And Schuster!)

*Some spoilers ahead*

As I was lucky enough to receive this book for free, I really wanted to like it. Unfortunately I found it to be pretty mediocre.
The main thing that bothered me was all the improbable things that occurred. Its like Rotenberg was like "yes I want this plot point to happen! Hang logic!"
Things like
- That Yolles would hear a man of questionable mental health going on about ratios and think for some reason that was all the info he needed to hire this man to work on pharmaceuticals.
- That Ratio Man could in a short time devise a ratio that placebo and anti-depressants pills could be mixed. And that there would have been any time/ethics board approval for testing its efficacy which Yolles seems super sure of.
- That placebo ratio is even a thing. If that lower amount of drug is effective than the pill would just be that lower dose, and if a drug doesn't need to be taken every day than that would be reflected in the dosing. That the consumer would need to be fooled by sugar pills in this scenario is ridiculous. Placebo effect is a real thing.....placebo ratio, stupidity.
- That somehow Yolles requires Decker (a man who somehow "sees truth") re: this drug and then is so threatened that Ratio man yelled about ratios near Decker that he is willing to kill one man and try to kill another. Does Yolles plan on standing up near Decker and saying, "Every pill in this Anti-depressant you've probs never heard of till I just mentioned it to you now is real drug". Seems unreasonable.
So yeah this a few of the things I found ridiculous in just the first quarter of the book or so. It doesn't really get more plausible.
Luckily even though I found most of the plot implausible, the writing itself was not bad, and I enjoyed some of the characters. Still, I think that won't be enough to make me want to read the next book in this series or anything else by this author. That's unfortunate because the only storylines I found really intriguing were about how the boy (Decker I assume) ended up on the lamppost and what Decker did to his dying wife and his son. Both of these were definitely left hanging to get the reader to move to the next in the series. Blech.
Profile Image for Sarah (Workaday Reads).
1,073 reviews96 followers
January 25, 2012
For me, the highlight of this book was the detailed descriptions of Toronto, a city I live not far from. It is unusual for a Canadian city to have such prominence in a book, and it was quiet refreshing. Most people familiar with Toronto will recognize most, if not all, of the locations mentioned in the story. It gave me a quiet thrill to actually know the places mentioned.

Getting to the actual story, I found Decker's ability to be quite unique and very interesting. I have never before thought of how being able to detect truth could be profitable or rich. It is definitely an underused gift in the world of paranormal abilities.

I did find the story a bit confusing near the end as all the threads started coming together to form the climax, but they did coalesce nicely. The ending was satisfingly complete.
Profile Image for Patricia Bergman.
435 reviews25 followers
July 22, 2016
I won this through Goodreads giveaway.

The protagonist, Decker Roberts, is either gifted or cursed with an ability to detect truth and lies. This thriller follows Decker as he attempts to find those who are trying to destroy him. This is an exciting and thought provoking book which I can definitely recommend.
Profile Image for Abria Mattina.
Author 5 books184 followers
February 17, 2012
This book and I got off to a rough start. First it offended me, then it bored me, then the action picked up, and then it petered to an ending that managed to satisfy while still leaving enough loose ends to sustain a sequel.

What offended me almost as soon as I began reading was Rotenberg's portrayal of synaesthetes. I am a synaesthete, and it angered me that people with my condition were labeled "weird-assed wackos" and portrayed as insensible, dangerous mental patients.

Yslan Hicks, a Federal Agent at work with the National Security Agency, is in charge of working with synaesthetes that may prove useful to the government. In the scene where both she and the synaesthete program are introduced, Rotenberg has her explain that synaesthesia is the result of head trauma.

While it's true that some people acquire synaesthesia as a result of brain injury, many more live with the condition as the result of a natural predisposition. Most synaesthetes are not the unfortunate victims of trauma, to be pitied or 'handled.' I was also bothered by Yslan's regard for some forms of the condition as "silly synaesthetes" because their manifestation of synaesthesia was not useful to the NSA. To be clear, it's almost unheard of for a synaesthete to have only one form of it (eg. smelling colours). Odds are that several senses will overlap or correspond in unique ways. By this simple logic, very few real synaesthetes would be completely useless to a project that involves unique perception.

And when synaesthetes aren't being portrayed as dangerous crazies, they're being portrayed as superheroes. They're like the mutant in X-Men, lying in wait for an organization to use their unique skills. I couldn't tell if Rotenberg just liked the idea of synaesthesia, or if he's a synaesthete himself and wants to elevate the condition to a cooler level. Personally, I don't think synaesthesia needed his help. What The Placebo Effect does is spread misinformation about the condition or, worse, make people assume that it's entirely fictional--the stuff of comic books and sci-fi.

Case and point--Decker Roberts, the protagonist of The Placebo Effect, makes reference to Daniel Tammet videos on a website dedicated to synaesthesia. Daniel Tammet is a real person and the author of the book Born On A Blue Day (his autobiography). He is also an extreme case of synaesthesia and has autism. Daniel Tammet is interesting, but he is not a typical synaesthete.

Later in The Placebo Effect, after letting the reader think that Decker Roberts uses his form of synaesthesia to detect lies from truth, Rotenberg reveals that Decker isn't a synaesthete at all.

Smoke within fog--that was him within the world of synaesthetes, not actually one of them, but enough like them that he could hide in their midst.*

He's got the cool extra sensory perception stuff going on, but none of the insanity that comes with being one of those people. The reader learns this after Rotenberg exploits a feeling that a lot of synaesthetes have at some point in their lives:

I didn't like the way he looked at me--like I had confirmed in his mind that I was really a freak.*

After all the effort Rotenberg went to in the vilification and discrediting of synaesthetes, it was confusing, misleading, and disappointing to find out that the one sane person with sensory differences isn't one of them--because the group needs a redeeming character in this book.

Rotenberg seems to have a gift for being casually offensive. This passage in particular struck me as particularly insensitive:

The natural thing was to make Henry-Clay Yolles enter down the centre aisle so that he looked up at Decker on the bimah--like Princess Di's funeral. Did the Brits know how to stage a pageant in a cathedral or what! When the coffin came all the way down the centre aisle, then turned to the right and the huge doors opened to allow the light in and her coffin out--Decker remembered wanting to cheer.*,/blockquote>

The funeral of a woman who died under tragic circumstances is not a 'pageant', and the urge to cheer is inappropriate.

Rotenberg's style annoyed me on several occasions, but particularly in the early chapters of the novel. He makes frequent comparisons to films, but not in an appropriately-timed-pop-culture-reference kind of way. It's more like Rotenberg throws in a comparison to iconic/memorable film moments when he doesn't feel like describing a character's action. Who hasn't seen that movie? Of course they'll all get the reference. He leans too hard on his background in theatre/TV.

There's also a fair bit of tangental nonsense. When Decker witnesses an altercation between a supermarket patron and clerk, Rotenberg wastes half a page on unimportant description of how multicultural Toronto is instead of keeping the action in the supermarket. He also offers the reader a clumsy description of how to use a smartphone, in case you've been in a coma for several years.

Decker's friend and colleague, Eddie, is a likeable and quirky character, prone to making haphazard mashups of common idioms and slang. I liked him more and more as the novel progressed, probably because his introduction to the novel is a bogged-down, over-long stretch of dialogue that strives to be 'realistic' instead of to the point, and therefore loses the reader's interest.

Eddie is passionate about his family and his job. He's a caregiver, and he's also imperfect. At times I wished the story focused more on Eddie than Decker, because at least Eddie is aware of how profoundly flawed he really is. He's relatable and he carries the scenes in which he's present.

The story didn't really gain any traction or sense of urgency until chapter 23, almost 150 pages into the book, when Decker begins to dig through his past work assignments and locates a mystery to be solved. Finally, there seems to be a point to what Decker does. The reader can see his goal. Everything that happened before that chapter--his teaching, his relationship with Eddie, the craziness of the synaesthete Mike Shedloski, an arsonist burning his house down, and his estranged son Seth--seem like extraneous 'scene-setters' that built up to chapter 23 by the most indirect route possible. Most of these things end up being relevant to the climax and ending of the novel, but the pace of the book felt very uneven.

Even more troubling was the convoluted plot. The cast of characters in The Placebo Effect is extensive, and most of them don't directly interact until near or during the novel's climax. Most of the time I was lost, unable to keep track of who was on who's side, what had had motivated each character, and how much time had passed.

It's not easy to follow the long series of coincidences in The Placebo Effect. For example, a lounge singer just happens to have a grudge against Yolles Pharmaceuticals and just happens to be the girlfriend of a man that Decker Roberts just happens to know from fifteen years ago. The people he relies on don't naturally or smoothly enter into the narrative, and most of the time they leave so abruptly that the reader doesn't know whether to anticipate their reappearance or not.

I found Seth's story to be the most moving part of the book. Estranged from his family and dealing with a serious illness, his sense of loneliness and futility is heartbreaking. He's already learned the lesson that his father struggles with:

Your life isn't here to entertain you--it's to be lived.

Unfortunately, Seth is barely in The Placebo Effect because he is estranged from the protagonist. The reader sees him when the events of his life are relevant to what's going on with Decker, but otherwise the book's most compelling character is left off stage. Heartbreaking as Seth's story was, I wanted to see more of him.

I felt like I fought with this book from start to finish. It was a struggle to read, to enjoy, and to understand. I might skim the sequel when it comes out, purely out of curiosity about Seth's fate, but after having such a rough-and-tumble experience with this one, I don't think I'll be reading the remainder of the forthcoming Junction Chronicles.

* Quotes not final.
Profile Image for Andrew.
Author 23 books51 followers
March 5, 2013
“I told him, ‘It doesn’t work on people I care about or family.’”

Decker had thought at the time about telling his father about the lines in his head—how they aligned when he heard a truth—then decided against it, as he decided against telling the southern girl across the table from him.

“My father’s eyes widened then he said, ‘I want you downstairs next Thursday night.’

“I protested, ‘But you and your friends are way better pool players than—’

“‘I know,’ he said.

“‘But I’m not good enough to play with—’

“‘No you aren’t, but come down and play that lying trick of yours.’

“I really didn’t want to do it, but I did. After their game ended and the men left, my father asked me what statements made by his friends were truthful. I identified the very few truths spoken that night, then added, ‘And Mr. Walsh pocketed a twenty that belonged to you.’

“‘You saw that too?”


“My father nodded slowly. ‘This is pretty interesting, don’t you think?��� he said.

“But I really didn’t find it interesting. I found it scary and isolating. And I didn’t like the way my father looked at me—like I had confirmed in his mind that I really was a freak. So I stopped using it.”


Decker Roberts is a synaesthete. Not one of those “silly” synaesthetes who can smell words or see colours and shapes in music (of which I am actually the latter), but an actual benefit to society and the protection of life and liberty. Through some crossed wiring in his brain he is able to tell, with incredible precision, when someone is telling the truth. Sometimes, that is. When there are no possible outstanding factors that might give someone reason to fib. Oh, and that’s another thing: he can’t tell when someone’s lying, only when they’re not being entirely truthful. Which is a round about way of saying that though Decker is in possession of a unique ability, it comes a pre-packaged laundry list of ways it can be circumvented. It’s a little like getting a mobile phone that only works when you’re standing in one specific spot at a certain time of day.

In the years since his wife’s death from ALS, Decker has forged a side-business to take advantage of his particular set of skills. On paper he teaches acting courses and has a past in the Broadway theatre scene. Off the record, however, he is available on a case-by-case basis for jobs requiring him to tell whether or not someone—usually an employee of a business with too much money to burn—is being truthful. When not jetting around North America on one-night-only jobs, Decker makes his home in Toronto, in an area of the city known as the Junction, where he pines for slivers of knowledge as to the wellbeing and whereabouts of his estranged son, Seth, who abandoned Decker years earlier for reasons not explained in this book.

The plot of The Placebo Effect, the first in a trilogy of books, revolves around two primary elements: the NSA’s tracking of known synaesthetes (not unlike the mutant Registration program from X-Men, minus the towering, thirty-foot-tall sentinels); and Henry-Clay Yolles of Yolles pharmaceuticals orchestrating a scam to sell his company’s medication for maximum profit using a carefully calculated ratio of placebos to actual medicine. The ratio itself was calculated beyond a shadow of a doubt by another synaesthete—the tragically simple Mike Shedloski (aka the Ratio Man). Henry-Clay is aware of Decker Roberts and his special skill and puts him to the test—supposedly to see whether or not he can be used as an asset. But when Mike the Ratio Man threatens to reveal Yolles Pharmaceuticals’ underhanded behaviour, Henry-Clay deems both him and Decker as threats to be quickly discarded.

There are a great many more characters and plot elements to the story—too many, in fact, given how little time is spent developing each character. I had several problems with The Placebo Effect, chief among them that it’s simply not very well written, plotted, or paced. The characters themselves are two-dimensional cut-outs. They have back-stories, sure—like Crazy Eddie attempting to regain custody of his daughter, or the mostly-untold history between Seth and Decker—but there is so much jumping around scene to scene, and often with only single paragraphs dedicated to one time or place before moving onto the next, that it is almost impossible to get any sort of emotional or psychological feel for any of the characters. The structure is spastic in how quickly it moves between people and places, and as such there is no room for the narrative or the characters to breathe, to be anything to one another but basic screenplay devices. And when Rotenberg does attempt to give a little depth via comparisons or interests, it is still handed in a frustratingly surface-level manner (eg: using albums, films, and TV shows to illustrate character traits, but not explaining how or what the relation is—such as referencing one’s dislike of The Fountainhead without giving context as to why). And when all is said and done, no actual depth has been added through these plentiful asides, and the reader is left perpetually wanting more—and not at all in a constructive I-can’t-wait-for-the-sequel manner.

Beyond these issues, I found the manner in which topics related to race were handled to be insensitive and heavy-handed, the amount of information which is teased but deliberately held back for future installments to be overwhelmingly distracting (and by holding so much of it back, especially with respect to Seth and Decker’s relationship, it actually harms are ability to take an interest in either one of their lives), and the level of detail—especially with respect to the language and imagery used to explain Decker’s particular synaesthesia—to be startlingly sparse and illustrating a surprising deficit of imagination.

Most egregious though is discerning Yolles’ motivation, especially with respect to his targeting of Decker. At the end of the book I’m left seeing this as a shot-first scenario, where it is Yolles’ fear and lack of understanding about Decker that causes him to go after him in the first place. Had he just left it alone and not done a thing, or waited to see if someone like Decker would actually ever be a threat in the first place, then it might have made sense to go after him. As it stands, the plot of The Placebo Effect feels as if it hinges entirely on Yolles making an incredibly stupid error in judgement, drawing Decker into a plot that would have otherwise passed him by. And all this without touching on NSA Special Agent Yslan Hicks, who vacillates so jarringly between intrigue and being a force of unnecessary oppression and antagonism that by the end I’d lost interest in discovering who she was beneath the surface.

I have a lot more I’d like to say (like how ridiculously simple it is for Yolles to gain Mike’s passwords to the online synaesthete community) but the long and short of it is that The Placebo Effect did not work for me on any level. I like the basic idea of employing synaesthetes in unconventional ways, but at no point does Decker’s skill—or any of the synaesthetic skills presented—feel necessary to the goings on in this book. In the end, too many characters and questions are left hanging for the second book in the series, while not enough has been given for me to know why I should want to read on.
January 21, 2018
set in the JUnction in toronto, this is a story about malevolent pharmaceutical company owner intent on making the biggest profit on a drug, something of a revenge, a settling of accounts for the suicide of his father. Hence the placebo effect: how making placebo pills can you incorporate in a pill bottle and still get people to buy the bottle because they get relief often enough to keep swallowing the pills?

A too far fetched story involving the NSA and some of its special agents, ultra gifted people, including the central character Derek who can always tell if people speak the truth, a skill the NSA is eyeing with great interest.

Springled with a bit of mysticism of ceremonies where sheep are sacrificed and their skins draped over the bodies of the participants lying down on marble altar somewhere in Texas...a bit too much.
Profile Image for Mark Edlund.
1,326 reviews3 followers
February 21, 2018
Science Fiction series - Rotberg has written a mystery series I really liked so thought I would indulge his venture into science fiction. Not bad but not great. The lead character is a tortured synesthete who can always tell if someone is telling the truth. The NSA is quite interested in him as are several other bad guys. Too much going on and not enough back story.
Canadian references - set in Toronto so too many too mention.
Pharmacy references - pharmacy company talks about drug testing; pharmacy company in Florida; mention of Canadian internet pharmacies; girl buys pregnancy kit at the local pharmacy; sub plot is putting placebos into bottles of real drug to make money.
Profile Image for Jane.
918 reviews9 followers
October 25, 2022
Acting coach and director Decker Roberts also has a talent for detecting the truth, a lucrative sideline to his "day job". The first of a series, Roberts finds that he is being hunted down possibly because he heard a truth someone didn't want to know. Roberts has to figure out the truth to save his life. This book was an ok read for me.
I won a copy of this book from the publisher as part of the Goodreads Giveaways program.
Profile Image for Izabela.
38 reviews1 follower
December 6, 2017
I would say more like 3.5 stars. The plot is staged in Toronto but even as someone who works in Toronto there parts with so much detail that I was lost. The book also makes a lot of references to other things which you can get lost in while reading the story. Interesting plot but the story wasn’t what I expected, it was okay but I wasn’t that into it.
Profile Image for Gef.
Author 7 books63 followers
December 9, 2011
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.
Profile Image for Natalie.
71 reviews26 followers
February 7, 2012
I get stuck from time to time when I'm reading. Sometimes I can't seem to get enough romance, then I start reading paranormal and can't seem to get enough of that genre, right now I seem to be stuck with mystery, with each mystery/suspense/thriller novel they seem to keep getting better and better. David Rotenberg has a written a great novel, it captured my interest right away, from the very first chapter and I couldn't seem to put it down until I had closed the back cover.

I was provided by Simon & Schuster an ARC copy of this book and after I read it I was so impressed with it I emailed Simon & Schuster and asked could I do an interview with David Rotenberg which you can read after my review. I really thought it was fantastic as David is a Canadian author and I myself am Canadian living in Nova Scotia, it's so cool when reading a Canadian author and being able to say, "hey I've been there", or I know where that is" and you can picture that particular place in your mind, it puts a whole new perspective on reading that book.

Decker is a Synaesthesia, who is a person who has the ability to see if someone is telling him the truth, imagine if we could actually do that, see who is lying to you or not that would be awesome, but poor Decker has tons of people after him because of him having this ability, they all want to know how, why, who else got it. This is a fantastic novel that takes you on a roller coaster ride with twists and turns you will not see coming and just when you think you have it figured out, oh no you don't lol, it's very fast paced, well written, unique thriller with a cast of characters that fit very well together, and the Canadian jokes and humor was great for me. I liked David's style of writing, I really am looking forward to reading the second book in this new series. Enjoy everyone!!!
Profile Image for Nicole.
37 reviews
December 6, 2011
Well first off, I would like to thank Goodreads First Reads for an advance copy of this book.

Unfortunately I did not enjoy this book as much as I had hoped to. I thought that the concept was intriguing so I was really looking forward to it, and overall it was alright - certainly not bad - but I never got to the point where I can truly say I liked the book.

I did really like that the author is Canadian, and there were a sufficient number of Canadian and hockey references which I thoroughly enjoyed. Also I found myself intrigued about halfway through the book when there were some unanswered questions coming up but unfortunately it seemed there very things that I was most curious about were the same things that did not get fully explained or answered. I do think however that some of this may have done purposely as this is meant to be the first of a series, so maybe we will learn more about those characters/situations in future books?

I did find it somewhat difficult to keep all the characters and events straight in my head and I was often confused. At the beginning I would flip back to figure out where I got lost, but towards the end, I have to admit, I somewhat stopped caring. I don't know if this may have just been me, but I do feel that I have read enough to say that I do not often come across this problem. I was also confused by the choice of the author to change the writing format to go over the circumstances of individual characters in only two instances, it seemed odd/misplaced, and I felt that the ending took a long time to wrap up.

Overall, I feel I can't give this more than 2 stars just based on how much/little enjoyment I got from this book and I do not plan to continue to read this series.
Profile Image for Shireen.
Author 8 books28 followers
August 13, 2013
The problem with writing a review on this ebook (I read the ePub version) is that I got the ebook a year ago, almost exactly to the day, and started it twice at least. I suppose that should be a sign that it wasn't quite good enough to hold my attention. But the interruptions were for one reason or another, and I was interrupted recently because a library ebook I put on hold last March finally became available and I had to read it before it was due. I decided not to start The Placebo Effect from the beginning for this, the third time, because I was too far into it this time. But it did mean I couldn't remember everything that had happened. Since forgetting is par for the course for me, that didn't worry me too much, and I followed along as best I could.

I hunkered down over the weekend, determined to finish it once and for all. I found some parts of it more engrossing than others. The lead character Decker seemed kind of, well, stand-offish or aloof or disconnected or something. I just couldn't feel any sympathy for him at all. It was like I was trying to grab a hold of a two-dimensional being who kept hovering out of my reach. On the one hand, he seemed like a total dunce; on the other, well, not quite a dunce. I would've thought for someone with his abilities, that he'd be more observant, and for someone with his kind of job, that he'd be more thought-ful. The cast of characters around him were interesting. I can see series potential with them in the next books. The plot was intriguing and a little disconcerting. Made me wonder if it is true in real life or only in fiction. I hope not!

The best thing about this book is that it is centred in Toronto. We need more books that feature Toronto!
Profile Image for Denise.
239 reviews9 followers
September 28, 2014
Full disclosure: I was chosen a First Reads winner, and received a paperback copy of The Placebo Effect in the mail. That in no way influenced the review that follows.

I absolutely LOVED this book. I found it to be intelligently written and terribly well crafted. Decker Roberts, the main character, is an acting teacher and director who has the ability to tell when people are telling the truth. I found him to be a fascinating character (and not only because I have worked as a professional director myself). In fact, all of the characters and the way author David Rotenberg wrote their thoughts and dialogue were amazing. I really enjoyed the way he delved into their psyches and let us see what made them tick, and I found them to be believable despite -- or perhaps even because of -- their various special abilities. I also thought his descriptions of the settings (Toronto, New York City, and Cincinnati, for example) were very well written and realistic, and that the seasonal descriptions of snowy Toronto were borderline witty.

Only upon completion of The Placebo Effect, which is set in 2009, did I realize that the paperback copy I had been lucky enough to read was published in 2012, and that Rotenberg had planned a second book. Before even stopping to write this review, I was excited to find that its sequel, A Murder of Crows, was published in 2013 and I immediately ordered a copy. This first book works fine as a stand-alone novel with a definite resolution at its end, but I was delighted to see that Decker Roberts would be back in the next installment and look forward to reading it as soon as it arrives in the mail.

Thank you, Simon and Schuster Canada, for the opportunity to read this book. I enjoyed it immensely.
Profile Image for Alana.
253 reviews7 followers
December 2, 2011
In compliance with FTC guidelines, I disclose that I received the book for free through Goodreads First Reads!!!
( thanks Simon & Schuster Canada!)

Our MC, Decker Roberts, has the unique ability to 'see' if someone is telling him the truth. Because of this unique gift, how he acquired it, and who else has acquired similar gifts, everyone is after him. This book had so many unique characters in it, a sneaky pharmaceutical company with a dirty head honcho, a hot national service agency agent keeping tabs on our MC, and a couple of crazy people. You know, the usual.

This book takes you through the events in Decker's ever complicated life as we follow him through it. However, we have pretty much no clue ( like Decker) what is going or happening until it happens. This made Rotenberg's book fairly fast paced as I was always wanting to know what was going to happen next. I did feel lost sometimes, but once the story started unravelling about 100 pages in, I really got into it.

Aside from a couple Dan Brown books, I have never read anything all that suspenseful and mysterious. Its definitely a lot different from appearing circuses, magic spells, and chicks who date werewolves, but to be honest, I really liked this change of pace, and enjoyed this one more than I thought I would.

My favourite parts were the little Canadian jokes thrown in to the dialogue and also the very brief mentioning of Vancouver Island as that's where I live. Its always fun to read about a place your familiar with and see what other people's (authors in this case) opinions of it are. For the record, I really don;t see many beat up old Volvo's driving around, but that part in the book made me chuckle!
Profile Image for Sue.
1,331 reviews5 followers
January 28, 2013
I won a copy of "The Placebo Effect" by David Rotenberg through the Goodreads Giveaway Contest.This book was a real thriller.I was gripped by this story right from the beginning and couldn't put it down.

Decker Roberts is an actor teacher that has the ability to tell when someone's telling the truth.His best friend, Eddie sets up assignments with large corporations that are willing to pay Decker large sums of money for detecting if the people they are planning to hire are truthful.Decker maintains a secret identity, and only his closest friends know. He lives in the Junction, the west end part of Toronto.

Mike Shedloski,(Ratio-Man)a former employee of Yoller Pharmaceuticals, was somebody else like Decker...a man with special talents.Mike meets other people like him on the website he setup for them. This involved blind websites, digital drop boxes and closed chat rooms.But the Enemy had used him...he thought they were going to be his friend...and now they would use Decker and his gift. He had to get to the Junction, and warn Decker.

The National Security Agency (NSA)was tracking individuals with "special talents."

But Decker's life suddenly starts to fall apart.His house burns down, his credit cards are cancelled, his loan is called and his bank account is emptied.Things couldn't get much worst.But who and why would someone do this to him? Decker is a man on the run who must figure out the answers fast.

This a fast paced thriller, and one that you won't be able to put down.Living in the west end of Toronto, I felt very at home with the setting.A great read by a very talented author.
Profile Image for Derek.
550 reviews93 followers
August 14, 2013
A pretty enjoyable ride.

Decker Roberts can tell the truth — that is, he can tell when somebody else is being truthful. Of course, that makes him rather important to a lot of people, including the American NSA.

Roberts also has a talent for teaching actors — even though he isn't an actor himself. Apparently these abilities are somewhat related, but it's never really explained.

The story centers around an online community of "synaesthetes" — people whose senses are somehow intertwined, so that they hear color or feel sound — and it's suggested that Decker's talent is a form of synaesthesia. I struggled to believe this.

I find it infuriating that this is not a standalone novel. It is largely complete, but it's implied that Decker somehow betrayed his deceased (from ALS) wife (though that may be just his guilt speaking), and it stated explicitly that he's betrayed his son, but neither is explained. And why does a retired cop believe the teenaged Decker destroyed his career?

For failing to write a self-sufficient novel, deduct half a star.
For writing "Decker knew that once Alan Turing's usefulness had ended for the British they literally fed him to the dogs", another half-star.

I despise writers who say literally to mean figuratively! I am fairly certain the British government has not literally fed anyone to the dogs since at least the Commonwealth period, but absolutely not Turing.
Profile Image for Doseofbella.
195 reviews44 followers
October 30, 2014

The Placebo Effect (Book 1 The Junction Chronicles)
By: David Rotenberg Thriller
Publisher: Simon & Schuster 2012
Pages 339.
Copy Courtesy of Goodreads First Read
Reviewed by: tk

Decker is a man of special talents. He can tell you whether or not a person is tell the truth. An amazing talent that is wanted by everyone in business, the military, or the guy next door. Decker likes to keep a low profile, and his life private. He is employed by companies that are concerned about the truthfulness of the clients, employees, and anyone else in question. Decker is an acting coach, and take private clients that pay him extremely well for his insight.

An astonishing story of betrayal, high stakes money, and how far someone will go to hide the truth. Decker’s life is shattered for these reasons. His is now on the run. With a small group of friends, and limited resources Decker will have to seek the truth for himself if he is to survive.

I feel the story line is astounding. It could actually be happening as I write this review. I believe there are all kinds of people out there that have special abilities that are hidden and used by special ops, and companies. Decker is just an example of one type of ability. The twists and turns are page turning bliss. I recommend full attention while reading. A lot of detail, and involvement of others can be a bit confusing if your attention should wander. The talent of this author is original and inventive, and I look forward to more. 4/5

Profile Image for Heather(Gibby).
1,223 reviews21 followers
November 19, 2012
I won the 2nd book in the series in a Goodreads giveaway, and the publisher was kind enough to also inlcude the 1st book.

I am fairly new at reading the science fiction genre, but I am finding as long as the books don't focus too much on explaining the actual science, I am quite enjoying them. This book is more of a paranormal/special abilities type book. In someways similar to Stephen King's Firestarter. Although how/why the characters have their special abilites is not fully explained. (which makes you want to read Book 2!)

I thought the stroy had a great balance between action and character development. All of the peopel in the book, including the main character are flawed, and you grow to want to understand them as the book progresses. I wanted to know more about the rift between Decker and his son, and I hope that is revisited with more detail in future books. Some characters seem to dart in and out for brief perids of time, and I was often confused by their relevance.

The book talks about "synaesthetes" which is a condition which is real and I did not knwo anythign about it prior to reading this book. It caused me to do a littel research into it. Although the abilities of the main character are not cause by Synaethesia, it still brought somethign to my attention I woudl never have been aware of otherwise.

I am really looking forward to the next book.
Profile Image for Lily.
61 reviews17 followers
July 7, 2013
I love reading Canadian fiction so I was happy to win a copy of this book on goodreads. It takes place in Canada and the US and follows the adventures of Decker Roberts, a Toronto man with the gift of telling if someone is lying or not. Throughout the story many people are chasing Decker, including Islan (and NSA agent), lawyers and the CEO of a multinational drug company. Decker spends most of his time on the run trying to sort out his life.

The characters in the book are interesting (while a little flat) and the story is a little different from run of the mill novels of this type. I loved the way the story captured the feel of different places however I all the running from place to place felt like he wasn't done where he was, which was a bit of a theme of the book. The book felt a unfinished without any satisfaction of a real ending. It was most definitely written to be the first of a series of books and I like my books to be a story in themselves rather than a tool to get me to buy more books.

Right off the bat I can think of many people who would love this book (and a number who wouldn't as well). I was quick to lend it out and the quick response was how many books are there in the series. So the I would say without a doubt this book would appeal as a series but I wouldn't recommend it as a single book.
Profile Image for Caitlin.
302 reviews20 followers
September 20, 2014
Well, sadly, I did not care for this book. I found the writing to be very choppy, and the story line to not mesh well. The sentence structure was hard to get through. It did not read well. I was constantly having to go back and read sentences after I had already read them, thinking "Wait, what the heck did that just say?"

The plot was ok, it could have been better played out. I was bored at times. There seemed to be a lot of "fluff" in this book. There was a lot of information, and even characters, that did not serve a purpose to the plot or the telling of the story. I also found myself skimming through parts, because it just kept feeling like it was going round and round, and on and on.

I wanted to like this book, as it was an ARC from GoodReads FirstReads. Thank you Simon and Schuster for the opportunity to check out this book.
Profile Image for Irene.
78 reviews
February 12, 2013
It took me about 7 chapters before I finally became interested in the book. The story's format jumps from one character's situation to the next. Until I learned more about the characters and how they relate to one another, I didn't feel the need to finish the book. I'm glad I stuck with the book, though. Although I can't personally relate to any of the characters, I found the characters to be interesting, once more of their backgrounds were revealed. The fast paced action was exhilirating and kept the story moving. I especially liked reading about familiar landmarks in Toronto, specifically the Junction. Overall, I really enjoyed the book and am looking forward to reading other books by David Rotenberg.
Profile Image for Feathzzz.
363 reviews42 followers
November 21, 2011
Not bad. It was alright.

For me the writing was fairly bland, while technically adequate it had zero creativity or prose. I heard the voice but there was nothing rememberable about it; no strength, lyric or individuality.

In contrast the story’s concept was very interesting and given the right kind of support through details. I appreciate the reality of the subtle political undertones. I really particular like this novel’s kind of content so the mediocre writing is redeemed making it a decent, easy, likable kind of book.

And thank you so much Simon & Schuster’s for sending me an advanced reading copy. I love you for it!
Profile Image for Nina.
15 reviews1 follower
April 29, 2013
I received a free copy of this book thanks to Goodreads and Simon & Chuster.

I found the book intriguing and surprising at the same time, so I would recommend it.

Because of the excessive number of characters, it was quite hard to remember what each person did or said at first, and his/her connection to Decker Roberts. After getting familiar with the names of most of them, the story started to interest me a lot more.

My favourite part: When Roberts realized (and me as well!) the connection between the real meaning of "Your forest will infect mine" and his sudden dizziness.
Profile Image for Heather.
26 reviews1 follower
April 7, 2013
I recieved this book as part of Goodreads First Reads Giveaways. I have not read a lot of books by Canadian authors, so as a Canadian I was excited to have recieved this book. It was refreshing to read about places that I've been and/or at least heard about, and the Canadian "humour" made me chuckle in spots. The plot is interesting, to say the least, and there is plenty of action and suspense. I am looking forward to reading the other books in this series, and also will read some of Rotenberg's previous books!
12 reviews1 follower
November 19, 2012
This was a really good book! As I read the last words I said out loud "Good Story". I had won "A Murder of Crows" from Goodreads and this one was also included. I made the mistake of reading "a Murder" first so the events were out of order. Both books were hard to put down. Mr. Rotenberg is an excellent story teller and I look forward to the next book in "The Junction" to find out what is going to happen next!
Profile Image for Cheyenne.
512 reviews16 followers
September 21, 2015
*Thanks to Goodreads Giveaways/Simon and Schuster Canada for this complimentary copy!*

Not a bad story line, but I found it confusing at times. There were also a handful of characters that didn't have a strong part in the book, but were repeatedly mentioned. It was hard to remember who they were. Liked that it took place in an area of Toronto that I've visited, so I did recognize a lot of the street names and landmarks. 2.5 stars.
307 reviews7 followers
February 19, 2012
The Placebo Effect sounded like an interesting read so I entered the Giveaway and to my delight I was a winner! :) I enjoyed this book as my curiosity was trying to figure out what what happened to Decker Roberts. I have to admit that I was a little disappointed that one event was not fully explained guess I will have to wait for the next book to see if it is explained then. :)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 46 reviews

Join the discussion

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.