"[Receptor], Alan Glynn's sequel to The Dark Fields (the inspiration for the film Limitless starring Bradley Cooper), grippingly imagines the origins of MDT-48the series' infamous 'smart drug,' which realizes remarkable human potential."Entertainment Weekly (New & Notable)
Named a Best Book of the Year by The Irish Times (Crime Fiction) and the Irish Independent (Thrillers)
One of CrimeReads' Most Anticipated Books of the Year
On a Friday evening in 1953, Madison Avenue ad executive Ned Sweeney enjoys a cocktail in the apartment of a strange and charismatic man he met hours earlier. Ned doesn't know it, but he has just become a participant in Project MK-Ultra, a covert, CIA-run study of mind-control techniques. The experience transforms Ned, pulling him away from his wife and young son and into the inner circles of the richest and most powerful people of his day. In a matter of months, he is dead.
It is a tragedy Ned's family struggles to understand, then tries to forget . . . but some skeletons refuse to stay buried. More than sixty years later, Ned's grandson Ray is introduced to a retired government official who claims to know the details of Ned's life and death. Ray is prepared to dismiss the encounter, until he discovers that the now-elderly man once worked for the CIA. Ray digs deeper, and begins to question everything as he uncovers rumors of a mysterious "smart drug"a fabled black-market cognitive enhancer called MDT-48.
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About the Author
ALAN GLYNN is a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin. His first novel, The Dark Fields, was republished as Limitless and simultaneously released as a film of the same name in March 2011, and was subsequently developed into a TV series by CBS. The winner of the Ireland AM Crime Fiction Award and a finalist for an Edgar Award, Glynn is also the author of Winterland, Bloodland, Graveland, and Paradime. He lives in Ireland.
Read an Excerpt
When Ned Sweeney leaves the apartment on West Fourth Street it's about 8:30 p.m. He's feeling distinctly weird, disorientated — not drunk exactly, he's only had three drinks in all, and over a period of hours — but not sober either, not normal. Is he coming down with something? A cold or the flu? There's a bug going around, at least so he heard at the office today — or maybe it was in the elevator, or at the newsstand, or sitting at the lunch counter at Sherri's. But isn't there always a bug going around? Isn't that one of those meaningless things people say to each other, everyone a doctor all of a sudden?
He huddles into his raincoat. The treetops and town house windows on West Fourth glisten in the orange wash of the streetlights. A taxi glides by ... but it's less a car than a pulsating yellow daub, loosely streaked with a line of checkers, little marching heartbeats of black and white.
This isn't a cold.
He takes out his cigarettes, shivers, turns right and starts walking. After he crosses West Eleventh, he looks down at the pack of cigarettes in his hand, at the eponymous desert beast in profile, but it has the appearance of an alien object, something he's not familiar with, this small, solid, rectangular container. He squeezes it. It isn't solid. He squeezes it again, more tightly this time, crushing the cigarettes inside. He's aware that he's a smoker, and that he smokes a lot, but for some reason now the idea of smoking seems absurd to him.
He comes to a trash can on the sidewalk and tosses the pack.
For More Pure Pleasure.
That's the line on all the advertisements and billboards these days, in The Saturday Evening Post, and up in Times Square.
With the giant smoke rings.
He walks on, passing Perry Street, then Charles, remembering older slogans.
Smoke as many as you want ...
He stops at West Tenth, at the curb.
More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette.
Traffic streams by. He watches it, and watches the flickering gaps between the cars as well — the asphalt, the small, oddly shaped pothole, the oily shimmer of a puddle left over from the earlier rain. In fact, he stands there at the curb for a good deal longer than is necessary. Longer than makes any sense.
He is thinking.
These ads — like all ads, really, like the ads his own agency comes up with — are lies. Smoke as many as you want? Someday people will laugh at this, because isn't it obvious that cigarette smoking has to be bad for you?
He looks around. People are passing by quickly now, in both directions — a man in a gray suit not unlike his own, a woman in furs, a tall, loose-limbed black man. Then a young couple. These last two are attractive in a fashionably scruffy sort of way, artist types. As they cross the street in front of him, the girl looks back, over her shoulder. She meets his gaze, and then looks away again. She is doe-eyed and willowy, anemic.
This is Greenwich Village, after all.
That fellow back in the apartment, Mike Sutton, he's an artist, too, or so he claimed. There weren't any signs of it, though, no canvases anywhere, or easels, or tubes of paint. Unlike this pair, he's clearly put his suffering days behind him.
Sweeney steps off the curb and crosses the street, trailing behind the young couple, not following them exactly ... interested, though, curious. But then something strikes him out of the blue, and with considerable force. That Mike Sutton isn't an artist at all, is he?
Floating along the street now toward Seventh Avenue, colors stretching past, the sidewalk disappearing beneath him like a conveyor belt, Sweeney replays the previous few hours in his mind, leafs through the people and places as he would through the pages of a contract or a quarterly report. It becomes apparent to him pretty quickly that Mike Sutton is a fraud. His apartment, the furniture, the fittings, the overall feel of the place — none of it adds up. He visualizes the coral and gray living room they were in, pictures with crystal clarity the lounge chair, the ottoman, the lacquered drinks cart with the oval-shaped glass shelves and the smoothly rolling casters ... also the well-ordered bookcases, packed with titles such as A Pictorial History of American Ships and Fell's International Coin Book. But it was all too neat, too deliberate, too much like a movie set.
He stops near the corner and closes his eyes.
There was that mirror, too. Something about it bothers him. It wasn't over the fireplace, where you'd expect it to be. It was on the wall to the left. And that just skewed the balance of the room, visually. But how had Sweeney found himself there in the first place?
He and Matt Drake had been downtown earlier, chasing an account. They were on Eighth Avenue afterward when Drake bumped into Sutton coming out of a coffee shop. Drake and Sutton had been in the same unit in the army together during World War II and apparently there was a good deal to catch up on. Sweeney would have preferred to head back to the office, as he had some correspondence to get through and was also hoping to make the 5:25 — it was Friday, after all — but Drake was the boss, and under the circumstances he just wasn't confident enough to cut loose. So they made their way to the White Horse Tavern on Hudson Street for a quick drink, but one thing led to another and the three of them ended up going back to Sutton's place on West Fourth Street.
Sweeney had sat there for ages nursing a rather strong, or, at any rate, strange-tasting martini. He remembers glancing around the room, taking it in, half listening to Drake and Sutton shoot the breeze. Oddly enough, though, he's pretty sure that none of what's striking him about the room now, in such detail, struck him then, while he was in it. And another thing he's only now realizing — Matt Drake was scared of his own shadow.
On the face of it, this is ridiculous. Matt is his boss. He's forty years old, confident, charming, a shoo-in for account director some day. But all of a sudden, Sweeney can see him as he really is, can almost see inside him, like an X-ray, the guilt and anxiety and self-hatred sluicing through his system.
Opening his eyes again, Sweeney is met with an intense barrage of visual stimulation — streetlights, store windows, cabs, buses, everything shimmering brightly, and powered not just by electricity, but by some unknown source that seems to be emanating directly from himself. He crosses Seventh Avenue, makes his way over to Waverly Place, and turns left onto Sixth. He is aware of trying to remain calm, but then realizes he is calm. Which doesn't make any sense. St. Vincent's Hospital is a couple of blocks away, and if he were to go in there to get his stomach pumped, that would make sense. Because he now has a strong suspicion that the key to this whole business is the strange-tasting martini he was sipping earlier. But the idea of going into the hospital just doesn't interest him. Much more interesting, he thinks, would be to try to piece together what happened back in that apartment. Mike Sutton came across as someone who would pride himself on being able to make a good martini. He was a big man, chunky and muscular, but there was also something effete about him. He smoked du Mauriers. And he spent a lot of time with his back to the room, fussing at the drinks cart. He used Gordon's and Noilly Prat — four parts to one part, Sweeney calculates — and two olives. But unless something was up with the olives there was definitely another element in the mix. It wasn't brine, there was no cloudiness, or residue from the ice, or anything else you could identify. At the time, Sweeney was aware of only a slight oddness in the taste. Now he can almost see it, like a graphic superimposed on his retina, this fourth strand in the flavor spectrum. Then he revisualizes the sequence of Mike Sutton's actions at the drinks cart, each movement of each arm, each accompanying clink and glug, and it's soon clear to him that Sutton did something extra. He put something extra into at least one of the drinks — Sweeney can feel it, this substance, whatever it is, coursing through his bloodstream and lighting his brain up like a pinball machine.
But there is no fear, none at all, and there should be, because what Sutton did was highly irregular, not to say dangerous. What there is, again — shooting up simultaneously in a thousand little tendrils — is curiosity. What is this substance? Why did Sutton slip it to him? Who is Sutton anyway? Then there's Matt Drake. How does he keep the act up? He isn't a heavy drinker, he doesn't play around or anything, but it sort of seemed to Sweeney as if he was on the point of cracking up. And reviewing the guy's conversation with Sutton, their wartime catch-up, it's evident why. There were certain modulations in tone as Drake was speaking, variations in register, chromatic dips, which coincided with references to some "incident" they had both witnessed, or maybe participated in, when they were stationed in Italy.
For his part, Mike Sutton displayed a remarkably cool detachment. In fact, there were even a couple of chromatic upticks, indicating ... what? Excitement? Arousal? Sweeney can't really say, but he has to wonder how many cases similar to Matt Drake's there might be out in the world, people walking around like ghosts, emotional time bombs who have no idea how long or short their own fuses might be. And not just ordinary people ... those in positions of authority, as well. Take the new vice president, for instance, Dick Nixon. (Please, as Henny Youngman would say.) There's definitely something dark and twisted going on there — the rictus grin, the smarmy style, that business during the campaign with the funds and the dog. How short will his fuse turn out to be?
As Sweeney floats along the sidewalk, an answer forms in his mind. It's obvious, in a way. Nixon is a sort of political pathogen, and to release someone like that into the system is asking for trouble. Because patterns of behavior persist, they replicate ... and sooner or later — maybe in '56, or in '60, if he decides to run his own ticket, or even some time beyond that — there will surely be another scandal, another newspaper headline leading to another television broadcast, only this time on a wider scale, and with much deeper repercussions for the country.
Sweeney slows down a bit and glances around — the city's electric swirl, on a millisecond delay, turning with him. He looks at his watch. What the hell is he doing? It's after nine o'clock and he hasn't called Laura yet to tell her he's going to be late. He'll be lucky to get the 9:45 now. He pictures his dinner in the oven, dried up and inedible, Tommy in bed, fast asleep, Laura in front of the TV, watching the Philco Playhouse or Revlon Mirror Theater, nervous, exasperated. Suddenly, this little picture of his domestic setup on Greenlake Avenue strikes him as profoundly strange. It's as though he's looking down on it from a great distance, from the sky, from another planet, no longer sure how any of it relates to him.
He crosses Twenty-Third Street. It's the same when he thinks about his job at Ridley Rogan Blanford. Anything he pictures about the place — his cluttered desk, a successful piece of artwork, the view from Jack Rogan's office — diminishes in significance almost immediately. It becomes small, irrelevant. But at the same time he feels amazing and is buzzing with energy.
It's all very confusing. For some unknown reason this guy back at the apartment on West Fourth slipped him a Mickey Finn. That usually means something like chloral hydrate, doesn't it? Something to incapacitate the target, so they can be assaulted or robbed or otherwise taken advantage of.
But Ned Sweeney is more in control, more aware, and more confident than he has ever felt in his entire life. Normally — and anyone who knows him would say this — Sweeney is a quiet, unassuming kind of guy. He's of average intelligence, works hard, and can be creative. But his ambitions are modest — to get ahead at the agency, to buy a bigger house some day, to keep Laura happy and send Tommy to college. Now all of that seems a bit dull, a bit limited. Sweeney is thirty-three years old. Is this supposed to be it?
Halfway along the next block, he spots a dingy bar and slips inside. He finds a pay phone at the rear. Normally, if he has to stay late in the city, if he's stuck with clients or finishing something up at the office, he'll be apprehensive about calling home, almost dreading the moment when Laura picks up. It isn't a regular occurrence — he's good about calling — it's just that everything seems to make her anxious these days. But dialing her now, considerably later than he has on any previous occasion, he doesn't feel the least bit apprehensive at all.
"Oh my God, Ned, I've been worried sick."
"I'm sorry, I got delayed and couldn't call." Hearing himself say this, he stops. "Actually, you know what, that's not true. Of course I could have called. But I didn't. I must have chosen not to. There must be —"
"Uh ... sorry?"
"Ned? Are you all right?"
"Yes, strangely enough, I am."
"Are you drunk?"
"No, but I guess it must sound like I am, right? It's pretty much what I thought at first, too, but there's ... there's just so much clarity, so much —"
"Clarity? You're in a bar, Ned, I can hear it in the background. Who are you with?"
"No one. But listen, Laura, it's all ... I mean, there's ..." He's aware now of a gathering speed and complexity to his thought processes that will make it difficult, if not impossible, to put comprehensible sentences together, to squeeze the words he wants to say down a phone line to his wife, especially with so much noise in the background here, voices, laughter, clinking glasses, the crack of balls colliding on a pool table.
"Ned? What is it? Ned?"
"I'll explain later, when I get home. Hug Tommy for me."
He hangs up.
Sweeney does feel apprehensive now, but this time it's at the thought of actually going home ... because little by little, in his mind, 15 Greenlake Avenue is taking on the feel and dimensions of a doll's house — brittle, confining, prison-like. Which is what he wanted to explain to Laura: that he understands, that he can see the way her whole life is circumscribed by convention, that of course she feels perpetually anxious, not to mention frequently pissed off at him.
But if the prize here is an individual "identity," then how well is he doing — stuck every day, as he is, behind a desk on the fourteenth floor, in his gray flannel suit, a mere cog in the corporate machine? His sense of the absurdity of all this ripens to a point where he has to just block it out. Instead, he focuses on various snippets of conversation he overhears on his way to the exit, odd words and phrases — "Teamsters," "Cyd Charisse," "the roto-swirl agitator," "flight 723," "Mantle's home run." Instinctively, he extrapolates from these what each speaker is talking about, their point of view, possible gaps in their knowledge, flaws in their arguments — entire exchanges, in fact, all of it coming so thick and so fast that he gets a bit dizzy and brushes against a guy on the very last stool a few feet from the door.
"Hey, fella, watch it —"
"Oh, and by the way, it was five hundred sixty-five."
Raising his hand to push the door open, Sweeney half turns back to look at the guy. "Mantle's home run?" he says. "In April? The tape-measure thing? It was five hundred sixty-five feet, not four hundred sixty-five ..."
* * *
Back out on the sidewalk, he keeps moving, powered by the motor of his thoughts. But just how fast is he going? Because very soon — sooner than seems possible — he's all the way up at Forty-Second Street. He's also on the right side of the avenue now. He looks around, a little confused. When did he cross over? He has no recollection of doing so. None at all. This is alarming. He can conjure up long-forgotten details from when he was a kid, random stuff, anything ... that small tin on his mother's dresser, for instance, Stein's Face Powder, with the weird list of colors on the back of it: Pink, Sallow, Olive, Cream, Othello, Indian, Lavender. But he can't recall crossing the street five or ten minutes ago?
And where is he headed anyway? Because if he doesn't want to go home, if that's too strange an option to even contemplate, what's left? Maybe more to the point, how long is this going to last? Not that he wants it to end or anything — he doesn't. What he wants, in fact, now that he thinks about it, is something to do. Or someone to talk to. But as more blocks flicker past, the lights of the city merging into a dense, multicolored plasma, he reckons he might be on the point of collapsing and actually dying right here on the sidewalk. Or perhaps he's already dead and this is just what it's like.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Receptor"
Copyright © 2018 Alan Glynn.
Excerpted by permission of Picador.
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