A debut novel examines the repercussions of an experimental LSD therapy.
For patients in the late stages of cancer, the Wohler Psychiatric Institute in Las Vegas provides a final hope. In addition to the standard services of a hospice, the institute engages in an experimental therapy. Exploring the potential for lysergic acid diethylamide (known as LSD) to be used in psychotherapy, the facility seeks to “furnish relief to a dying individual’s final days.” While some patients react well to the therapy, others wind up with less encouraging results. Supplying the LSD to Wohler is the job of Swiss Dr. Jonas Krummen. Holding the title of “Chemistry Professor Emeritus” at a nearby university, Krummen, with the help of graduate student Garrett Wayley, synthesizes the psychoactive drug in highly controlled conditions. Responding to patients who react poorly to the therapy, Krummen proposes creating an analogue of the standard LSD-25, to be known as LSD-3Z. After Garrett finds out he has an inoperable brain tumor, he eventually receives the LSD-3Z at Wohler. Shockingly, the LSD-3Z provides more than relief; it manages to diminish his tumor. Side effects, however, are soon apparent. As Garrett’s personality changes and voices emerge in his head, the reader is told that “a dark analogue of Garrett Wayley had emerged.” Part sci-fi, part cop story (a detective named Nick Farris, who winds up pursuing Garrett, also receives the LSD-3Z at Wohler), Rohrer’s tale takes a number of twists and turns. At its best, when providing technical details, such as explaining the process for creating d-lysergic acid hydrate (“The compound is synthesized from the precursor ergotamine tartrate”), the novel weaves information neatly into the text. Somewhat less thrilling are stock characters like Nick, who is described as a “lean ex-Marine,” and Krummen, who was once a “brilliant doctoral graduate.” Slow in portions (for example, the largely unnecessary portrayal of one of Nick’s police assignments, where a clichéd lieutenant explains that the suspects are “supposedly moving smack, meth, coke and shitloads of marijuana”), the pace increases once the analogue of Garrett emerges. Though his change in personality is sudden, it creates an urgent sense of suspense, leaving a reader to wonder where it will all lead.
Sluggish in parts, this medical thriller nevertheless delivers an informative and surprising adventure.