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Gurglings of a Putrid Stream

Thoughts on books and other assorted topics.

See also:  http://goppf.wikidot.com/swstart

My name:  Brian Martin

The Shimmer by David Morrell

The Shimmer - David Morrell

David Morrell's acknowledged inspiration for The Shimmer is the phenomenon known as the Marfa lights. The lights are colored, basketball-sized orbs of light that appear occasionally throughout the year near the small, west Texas town of Marfa. They have been embraced by some UFO and paranormal enthusiasts, while being dismissed by science as natural phenomena and reflections of the headlights of vehicles traveling on a nearby highway. Morrell gives lip service to the mundane, but builds his story along more romantic and conspiratorial lines.

Santa Fe cop Dan Page returns home one day to find that his wife, Tori, is gone, ostensibly to visit her mother in Texas. Her mother, however, hasn't seen her. Then Page gets a call from the sheriff of a tiny Texas town called Rostov, who assures him that his wife is all right, but that he won't let him speak to her except in person; it is, he says, the only way he'll understand what has happened. What Page finds out is that Tori has discovered (actually re-discovered) the Rostov lights and become so captivated by their beauty that nothing else, including her marriage, means anything to her.

Rostov is also home to an old World War II airbase and a new scientific installation prominently marked by an array of radio telescopes, one of which, aimed not at the sky but at Rostov, seems perpetually under repair. It isn't defective, of course, and the true nature of the facility isn't scientific, but military. The old airbase isn't abandoned, either: it covers a secret underground testing and command center. Is the military creating the lights or using them? And to what end?

At the observation platform erected by the town for tourists, a gunman opens fire, first on the "hellish" lights, then on the "sinners" who have come to view them. The massacre brings flocks of reporters to Rostov, among them an ambitious El Paso TV anchor, determined to get the story of a lifetime and an offer from a major network.

With Page and Tori, a couple of military types, the reporter and his intrepid camerawoman, The Shimmer never has to hunt for a plotline. That's good in this case because no single one of them is compelling from beginning to end. Page is your basic brilliant hero cop, but it's kind of fun early on to see him so bamboozled by his wife's seemingly sudden (and rather frightening) indifference to him. The military angle offers some intriguing mystery before degenerating into all-out violence. But, strangely enough, it's the reporter's story that is most affecting toward the end. Brent, the man in question, starts out as just another self-involved, ambitious reporter-type, but develops along the way into someone with real courage and sensitivity.

Yet this is a mystery-thriller and that is how it must be judged. For semi-automatic enthusiasts, I suppose it has sufficient thrills. None of the gunfire moved me particularly, except one scene late in the novel that appealed to my pride in American military might, like a technological variation on an ordinary bully picking a fight with a SEAL.

The greatest weakness, though, is the mystery, and that's because Morrell is content to throw out strange, tantalizing clues about the lights while resolving his plot on a much more prosaic level. And because the clues he does provide cover too much territory. I don't think Morrell ever developed an idea what the lights really were and maybe didn't want to. Instead, he just keeps piling on the effects until the whole thing becomes unbelievable and even, ultimately, convenient.