This book marks my introduction to this author, and I must say I’m quite impressed. I’ve already bought Singularity (the sequel) just off of the strength of this novel. And I decided to pick up Rook, an installment from an entirely different franchise of his, involving an FBI agent, to see if I might be sucked into the rest of that series as well.
Placebo kicks off the hi-tech thriller series involving a pharmaceutical firm, psychic research, and biotech human enhancement, and, as you might expect, no shortage of politics, clandestine, covert corporate and pentagon involvement. Seems the earth-shaking consequences of the research going on may be more real than hype, which has all kinds of parties interested. I found the near-future world depicted as terrifying as it was inescapable. Though if you buy into the paranoia of the novel, this isn’t even the near-future we’re talking about; this stuff is going on right now. But whether you believe that this drama is playing out today in secret or not, it’s very hard to believe it won’t play out sooner or later. That makes the already engrossing drama and storytelling all the more engaging.
Characters are very realistically portrayed and believable, but more than that are a lot of fun. The author’s hero is a retired magician. Between his escape artist tricks and his karate training, he’s a believable hero for this kind of franchise where he repeatedly makes use of those skills to save his neck.
I was on the fence between a 4 and a 5 rating, and since I couldn’t get off the fence, I went with 4.5 stars. My nitpicks are few. For one, it takes several chapters to even know what genre you’re in. The author is very slow with sneaking up on the subject that will concern us, the clandestine biotech research going on that will ultimately identify the sub-genre we’re in. For another, he excels perhaps a little too much at plot retardation. Honestly I burn through more plotting in the first acts of my books than he has here for the entire novel. But that weakness is as much strength in the hands of someone who plays that card as well as he does. And it’s also admittedly a smart move to spend a little more time with the character development in the first book of a franchise. Just keep in mind that with this much plot retardation, the book is arguably more of a suspense (“Oh my God, what’s going on here?”) than a thriller (“Oh my God, how are they going to get out of this?”). Again, not necessarily a minus for folks who enjoy that genre just as much.