The Alchemist"" of the title is a greedy young university scientist, devoted to making new analog drugs whose elements imitate the effects of illicit drugs but are themselves legal compounds (although absolutely unpredictable). They are dubbed ""designer drugs"" and Goddard, author of the well-received Balefire (1983) and himself a chief of forensics for a southern California law-enforcement divison, knows whereof he writes in this science-oriented police thriller. He opens with two shockers. First, an 18-year-old dealer at the University of California, San Diego, is discovered by his underworld dope boss, Jimmy Pilgrim, to be cutting drugs on his own and making too many extra bucks on the coke his bag man gives him. So the boss traps the kid in his dorm bedroom with a mean, extremely poisonous snake and turns out the lights while the reader--amid the bitten victim's screams--immediately lifts his own legs up into his chair. The second shocker is the framing of Lester, a Mafia headhunter searching for Jimmy Pilgrim, who is drugged insensible in Tijuana by Pilgrim's psychopathic black hit man known as Rainbow and comes to in a federale police car with a gun in his hand, a dead federale in the back seat and the car surrounded by gleefully sadistic federales who are watching him fruitlessly click the empty pistol against his temple. Lester is aware how unpleasant Mexican police are with cop killers. The story tells about the penetration and dismemberment of Pilgrim's analog empire by Tom Fogarty's specially created DEA Task Force team, a unit of highly trained policemen and women. The computer-efficient, Mafia-supported cocaine trade is being undermined by the new street analog called A-17, a cheap drug superior to cocaine. Few of its users know that little is really known about the utterly dangerous drug or that they are human guinea pigs. The DEA team's work costs the lives of two of its members, who are brutally murdered, while the novel's final irony is that both the analog ring and the Mafia are busted--but a still newer analog--A-18--is being readied for the street by A-17's creator. The drug background is fresh and exciting, especially Goddard's power-rainbow descriptions of the A-17 hallucinogen, which is a sex-intensifier. But the characters are two-dimensional thriller standard, with only the jivey black psychopath making any impression, while Goddard too often indulges himself in tiresomely congested sentences that need pruning. A big push and heavy advertising slated by Bantam.