MDT-48 is an experimental drug designed by the CIA during its infamous Project MK-Ultra, which was developed to unlock the full potential of the human mind. Ned Sweeney is an unassuming, milquetoast account manager at an advertising firm. When the man and the drug are combined in a clandestine experiment, Sweeney becomes something else, a madcap machine of computation and prediction, dazzling random strangers in bars, accompanying Dylan Thomas on a bender and spending a few hours holed up with Marlon Brando and Marilyn Monroe. But the subsequent crash leaves him despondent, confused and with a debilitating craving for more. Half a century later, Sweeney’s grandson Ray has been told his grandfather committed suicide. But an offhand remark from a retired government official upends that story. Ray begins leveraging his contacts as a political operative to dig into his grandfather’s past, embarking on a search that will change his life forever.
Project MK-Ultra is not fiction, and author Alan Glynn ably contends with the ever-changing boundary between human enhancement and treatment that both that project and modern pharmaceutical developments imply. Furthermore, Glynn’s writing is as sharp as ever, conjuring tension and drama fit for an action film out of what is essentially a political thriller. His characters, especially the cantankerous Clay Proctor, are compelling and memorable, and they are well deployed. Receptor’s sole failing is that its plot can move a touch too quickly, rushing through relationships and romances in ways that limit their credibility. But Glynn’s dramatic instinct is maintained throughout. The potential of MDT-48 is demonstrated with flashbacks to Ned Sweeney’s story, and the circumstances of his death are revealed as they happened, not in a retrospective or historical narrative. Glynn unfailing obeys the rule of showing rather than telling, and does so with memorable elegance. Perhaps his chief accomplishment in Receptor is his ability to shift the language of his dialogue. Ned Sweeney is almost aggressively bland for the most part, but speaks in kaleidoscopic swirls of persuasive fervour when on MDT-48.
All told, for anybody who enjoyed The Dark Fields (now titled Limitless) and wants a fast-paced thriller that still has time to question the morality of medical enhancement, Receptor would make an excellent choice.