What makes you pick up a new book? The author’s name? A rave review? The cover design? A good endorsement? The back cover description? I think I’ve picked up books for all of those reasons. Recently, I grabbed Steven James’ new novel Placebo because I met the author several years ago, at a writing workshop in Edmonton, Alberta. I appreciated the writing tips he gave us way back then, so I thought it would be fun to finally read one of his books.
This book was provided for review courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. It’s available at your favourite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. This post contains affiliate links; as an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Placebo plot summary
When Jevin’s wife Rachel drives their van off a dock with his twin sons strapped into their car seats in the back, Jevin’s world falls apart. Thoughts of how his family died make him claustrophobic, so he leaves his stage show (he’s an escape artist and magician) and turns to filming exposes.
He and his assistant Charlene are investigating a controversial neurological research program when they uncover something much bigger…
My thoughts on this book
James is an accomplished thriller writer and his newest novel is no exception. I was drawn into the characters and to the way that they untangle the clues they discover in their search for information. Jevin’s skills as an escape artist come in handy more than once, but Jevin must also face his questions about faith, his wife’s death, and his feelings for Charlene.
Quantum physics is an area of science that leaves my brain reeling. Jevin does a good job of explaining the ideas used in the novel. Some of the ideas were intriguing, such as the age-old questions about the way that placebos are sometimes just as affective—or more so—than a real drug.
In one part of the book, as Jevin and his quirky friend and special-effects manager Xavier discuss what they’re learning, Xavier says, “It could be that science is just now discovering what people of faith have always known—that our thoughts and expectations about reality affect its outcomes in real, tangible ways. That’s what quantum physics is all about, right?”
One of my favourite characters in Placebo is Fionna, a single mom who works at home as a cyber security consultant while homeschooling her four children. She provides technical support to Jevin (digging up information as he needs it) and I’d love to see more of her in future Jevin Banks novels. At one point, Xavier raises his questions about socialization with Fionna’s daughter (age 10, I think). Her answer left me laughing:
“So do you think the best way to prepare kids for the real world is to bus them to a government institution where they’re forced to spend all day isolated with children of their own age and adults who are paid to be with them, placed in classes that are too big to allow for more than a few minutes of personal interaction with the teacher … then spend probably an hour or more every day waiting in lunch lines, car lines, bathroom lines, recess lines, classroom lines, and are forced to progress at the speed of the slowest child in class?”
(Spoiler alert) I’ll confess that one part of Placebo left me a bit disappointed. When I realized that the plot was heading towards an assassination attempt on the president, I almost rolled my eyes. Maybe it’s because I’m Canadian, but I feel like I’ve read a lot of novels lately that revolve around attempts to assassinate the president (or a high-ranking government official) and the protagonist’s race against time to stop that (Chris Fabry’s latest novel springs to mind). This is definitely a theme I don’t see in Canadian novels (maybe our prime minister doesn’t get as many threats against his life?), so it felt like an overused plot to me.
At the end of Placebo, Jevin is back at his stage show, but the bad guy behind all the plots Jevin foiled is still on the loose—making me think that we’ll be seeing that guy again in a future Jevin Banks novel. I would pick up the next book just to meet Jevin, Charlene, Fionna, and Xavier again. Steven does a great job of blending interesting, unique characters with a compelling plot question to keep the reader wanting to know what happens next.