The Shimmer

~by David Morrell

I probably would have skipped right over David Morell's The Shimmer if it hadn't been brought to my attention. Morrell is frequently referred to as the father of the modern action novel though I must admit, I didn't recognize his name. He is probably best known as the creator of the character Rambo and for his award-winning novel Creepers. The Shimmer is his most recent offering and is heavily based on the ghost lights that appear near Marfa, Texas and the stories and theories surrounding them. It was this that particularly interested me when I was offered a copy of the book to review.

Just outside of the small cattle-town of Rostov in southeastern Texas, something bizarre occurs on an almost nightly basis. Strange lights appear and no one knows for certain what they are or what causes them. Even stranger, not everyone one can see them. People are almost inexplicably drawn to Rostov and the mysterious lights. Victoria Page remembers seeing them as a child and on a whim decides to see them again, disappearing without telling anyone. Dan, her husband, follows her there, concerned about her and desperate to save their crumbling marriage. Brent Loft is a news anchor searching for a story, hoping to make it big, while his camera operator, Anita, simply needs the extra cash. Colonel Warren Raleigh has both a military and a personal interest in the phenomenon, much like his father and grandfather before him. Edward Mullen has become obsessed with the lights after his wife died, an obsession that leads to tragedy--neither the first nor the last to befall Rostov.

For as many primary characters that are used in The Shimmer (and I haven't even mentioned them all), characterization is really not the books strong point. While not exactly stock characters, none of them have much depth and their personal relationships (particularly between Tori and Dan) come across as too easy. The first thee quarters or so of the book were the best. Unfortunately, by the time Morrell reaches what is supposed to be the climax, it doesn't feel like much of climax and the ending falls a bit flat. I found the lights and their mystery to be much more interesting earlier in the book before they started behaving differently for some reason, in almost an intelligent or deliberate sort of manner, which seemed a bit..."out of character" is the phrase that comes to mind.

Overall, The Shimmer didn't leave much of an impression on me. It wasn't a bad book, neither was it a great book; I feel rather ambivalent towards it. The story was an entertaining enough diversion, but it failed to really grab me. In addition to some clever alternate history, I did like how Morrell was able to tie many of the Marfa lights stories together (I recognized several of them from reading up on the lights before The Shimmer arrived on my doorstep) and managed to hit upon most if not all of the major theories that attempt to explain the phenomenon. Morrell also includes an afterword in which he discusses the Marfa lights and his inspiration for The Shimmer further. I found this section to be very interesting; perhaps the book would have been better had he not decided to novelize his research, though by doing so he has written a very accessible, if fanciful, introduction to the real-life mystery.


Kathleen said...

Hmm too bad it was missing that Wow factor.

Phoenix said...

Indeed, I was looking forward to reading it. I've heard that this isn't his best work, so I'd still be willing to give Morrell another shot.

Thanks for stopping by, Kathleen!