Posted: 03/10/2012 3:18 AM 

SUSPENSE: Moody thriller should send planned trilogy into stratosphere

The Placebo Effect  | Touchstone | 352 pp | $29.95
By: John Sullivan, Winnipeg Free Press 

Toronto author David Rotenberg switches mystery venues from modern China to Hogtown and a racetrack of U.S. cities for his sixth novel, The Placebo Effect (Touchstone, 352 pages, $30), and it's a corker -- a moody speculative thriller that should power his planned three-part trilogy into the stratosphere.

In fact, a hypersensitive rarefied zone is exactly where Decker Roberts seems to go when corporate clients hire him (for cash, and very much on the QT) as a modern-day truthsayer -- "sensing a stream of cool, clear air above him ... something heavy in his right hand and a coldness." Decker is a synaesthete, someone whose awareness mixes two or more senses (a documented condition often linked to head injuries), allowing him to detect lies infallibly.

It's a murky, clandestine world where exposure means threat -- from a pharmaceutical kingpin and his murderous henchman and, more subtly, from a comely Washington spook trying to protect (and use) such "special talents."

It's this one-step-removed scenario, and a full-blooded, under-the-radar cast fronted by the harried and haunted Decker, that elevate this yarn from a run-of-the-mill chase novel to a smart, intriguing ride that serves Rotenberg -- and his readers -- quite well.