Hardcover, 352 pages, $25.95
Review by Sheila Merritt
In The Shimmer, author David Morrell ventures into X-Files territory. Mysterious lights that have appeared to select people over the centuries are becoming extremely active again. What are the lights made of? Do they have an agenda? If so, is it for good or evil? Are they being manipulated by a secret government agency? Some of these questions are satisfactorily answered in the course of the novel; others are left open to interpretation. Told from different characters’ points of view, the novel somewhat mirrors the lights: It is, at times, intense in the narrative; sometimes muted or vague. Over all, it lacks enough punch to captivate or mesmerize consistently.
One of the people drawn into the nexus of the lights is police officer Dan Page. His wife has packed up and left their New Mexico home, not giving him a clue about her motivation. When he tracks her to a small town in Texas, she seems remote and disengaged. Her one interest is the Rostov Lights; the fascinating, inexplicable occurrence that holds its many viewers enthralled. One of the watchers goes postal, dispatching many of his fellow gazers. The massacre sets in motion much more mayhem as the media and the curious flock to the area. This is particularly bad news for the clandestine government agency that has been involved with harnessing some of the properties/powers of the lights. The government began this secret activity in World War I; it is determined to protect its interests at any cost. The carnage escalates in a predictable manner, with crazed top secret officials infighting and using advanced weaponry to keep out threats to their cause.
There is much back and forth in time in the book, and some of the history does illuminate the story. In general, however, it gives the narrative a jerky quality that is distracting. The characters are also described in fits and starts; a fragment of personality development based on seemingly sudden changes of heart. It would be nice to be able to care more about them.
David Morrell certainly can’t be faulted for his commitment to this novel. His research about the Marfa Lights in West Texas is admirable; he became interested in the sightings after reading about them in a 2004 newspaper article. He found during his research that iconic actor James Dean was fascinated by the lights while filming the movie Giant at a nearby location. Morrell expertly incorporates that information (with some name changes) into the story. It is a fine integration of fact and fiction.
The Shimmer won’t shine as one of the finer examples of the author’s work, which includes such impressive titles as: First Blood, Brotherhood of the Rose, and the Bram Stoker Award winning Creepers. It has the draw of the writer’s best selling résumé, and the allure of the subject matter; but it will fail to rivet, no matter the duration of the look into the lights.