August 29, 2009
Book Review: "The Shimmer" by David Morrell
Title: The Shimmer
Author: David Morrell
Publisher: Vanguard Press (2009)
The local legend of the Rostav lights are based on an actual local legend of the phenomena based in Marfa, Texas. At night, countless witnesses claim to see shimmering orbs of light hovering over empty fields. Ranging in multiple colors and no apparent pattern, the lights have been a mystery since they were first seen by the Native-Americans long ago. Similar phenomena exist in other parts of the world too, but The Shimmer focuses on the east Texas setting of Rostav.
Dan Page, a police officer, comes home after a grueling shift to find his wife gone with only a small note telling him she's gone to visit her mother in San Antonio. But, her mother says she's not there. Dan is frantic until a small-town sheriff by the name of Costigan contacts him, informing him Tori is in Rostov and Dan needs to go there if he wants answers about why she's there. When he arrives via his Cessna single-engine plane (his instrument of catharsis from work), he discovers his wife has become enamored with the Rostov lights, which she first saw as a little girl. And she's not the only one fascinated by them.
It's a bit of a tourist trap, and on the night Dan reunites with Tori at the viewing platform they witness more than just an evocative light show--not seen by all who go to see it, for some reason--because a man who has seen the lights before is there and this time he's brought an assault rifle with him. Carnage ensues as he fires into the crowd until he's ultimately stopped by Dan, Tori, and Sheriff Costigan. The massacre might seem to be a climax to the story, but it all goes down within the first hundred pages. And Morrell's story focuses on more than just Dan and Tori.
There's also the military conspiracy occurring with Colonel Raleigh, a man with a storied past which revolves around the legend of the Rostov lights, plus a Sergeant Halloway who has been guarding a satellite array for months and has finally gotten a glimpse at the secret base's true nature--not to mention the captivating music coming from the array with one giant satellite dish pointing directly towards the site of the Rostav lights.
And if that's not enough, there's also the story arc about a fame-starved TV anchor looking to make a name for himself when he's picked to head to the scene of the massacre and get the exclusive on it and the Rostov lights.
I liked this novel. But, I didn't love it. I wanted to, but the surreal nature of the lights and the mystery to why Tori was so enamored with them became overshadowed by the whole military exploitation of the phenomena and the journalist's conniving ways of covering it all. For as much as I came to know Dan and Tori Page and their attempts to unravel the mystery of the lights, their story fell to the wayside as Colonel Raleigh's family history with the lights comes to bear throughout the novel, as well as Sergeant Halloway's descent into madness, and Brent Loft (the journalist) pokes his head under every stone. The 326 pages of this novel were jam-packed with so much subplot, it kept me on my toes, but it didn't do it in a good way.
I may be spoiling things when I say that the three narratives are segregated until the final scenes when all hell breaks loose, but I can't help but wonder if the story arcs and how unrelated they were to each other--in terms of character association and tone--were reasons why Morrell had taken so long to craft this story, writing and publishing three other novels while tinkering with this one. It's all a mish-mash to me and the undertones of each story, while related to the Rostov lights, were too dissimilar and made it feel like there were three novels happening at once.
Morrell's the expert, not me, but I am a book lover. And when it came to The Shimmer, I was only a book liker. I loved Creepers to death--one of the novels he wrote while crafting The Shimmer--and had high hopes for this one after reading previews and interviews. And it's not that I'm disappointed and want people to stay away from it, quite the opposite. I just have to publicly shrug my shoulders and ask aloud: What I missing here? The premise is intriguing as heck, and the characters were sympathetic, but when it was all said and done I felt a little underwhelmed. I hazard a guess I'm in the minority, though.
For differing opinions, you can read a review on The Novel Bookworm, or an interview with David Morrell by Ed Gorman.