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Book Review: The Shimmer by David Morrell

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Dan Page is a police officer in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In Shimmer, he loves spending his off-time flying high above the earth because it helps relieve the stress of his daytime job. The complexity of flying his aircraft keeps his mind preoccupied with a multitude of correct procedures to keep his plane aloft — alas, to keep him alive.

After spending time alone in his Cessna 172, Page lands.  He ties down his small light aircraft in case of high winds. He feels relaxed because “getting above it all” removes some of the horrible images of murders, crashes, and corpses he sees so frequently; most recently, the killing of a fellow police officer.

 Upon reaching home, he finds a note from his wife: Gone to see my mother. Instantly, Page’s stress level reaches fever pitch. His mother-in-law lives 800 miles away in San Antonio Texas. Why would his wife leave without telling him when they had no marital problems of any kind — none that he knew of.

 From his wife’s mother, he learns an equally disturbing fact: his wife has told her mother she would rather talk to her in person than on the phone. He receives a phone call from the police chief in Rostov, Texas. Page’s wife is staying in a motel there; she is safe, but the Chief feels Page should come to be with her. Truly disturbed, Page flies out after her.

Reunited, his wife confesses she has breast cancer. She wants to explain her fate to her mother in person. She tells Page she feels terribly lonely. What bothers her most is: She has witnessed the strange Rostov lights and found them not only comforting, but inspiring. The Shimmer portrays her as obsessed by their presence. 

The Rostov lights appear at some distance across a wide swath of land known by locals as the badlands. At times, they seem to sparkle, bounce, change color, and move about. These lights have been appearing for years since 1883 (Handbook of Texas Online). Scientists have given vague explanations for their cause — very vague — sometimes downright implausible. 

The folks of Rostov are aware of a huge array of SETI-like radio disks near their town pointed toward outer space. But little do they know that one of the disks is angled toward a distant building where extraordinary data has been collecting for years. Allegedly, an ongoing link is thought to exist between the Rostov lights and possible uses of their strange powers as a weapon, maybe more dangerous than the atomic bomb.

In Shimmer Page becomes as obsessed as his wife did with the cause of the Rostov lights. But as they stand with crowds of observers and tourists, the lights cause uncanny sound vibrations which affect the brains of onlookers. Some are affected positively thinking they hear sensuous music; some become psychotic.  In one instance, an observer becomes deranged and slaughters 20 persons in a crowd of onlookers before Page is able to partially subdue him. As the distraught man is about to kill Page, his wife shoots the deranged man many times. She has taken the gun from the local police chief — an injured victim of the deranged killer.

The Shimmer is a thrill-seeker’s delight. On almost every page or so, I knew some infamous thing was about to happen. I raced through the book as if I was there in the long line of people who volunteered to walk toward the lights, hoping to converge at their point of origin. I was there when most of these brave people panicked and retreated when the Rostov lights and their eerie, ear-damaging sound chased them. 

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