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Book Review of: The Shimmer

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Review of The Shimmer, by David Morrell (Hardcover, 2009)

(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)

Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.

This was a good read, but I don't see a basis for the gushing praise and superlatives that appeared on the jacket. The book is good. but not great. It's worth buying, and it's the kind of book that can occupy a few summer evenings of end of day reading, or that can make the time pass if taking a trip by plane or train. It was satisfying, but it didn't rock my world or have me breathlessly wanting to see what was next.

A quote on the jacket calls this book a "techno-thriller" and "a masterpiece of suspense, intrigue, and terror." First of all, it's not a techno-thriller. There isn't anything particularly high-tech about it, and if there are thrills I somehow missed them. Suspense, intrigue, and terror are also conspicuously absent. The quote is from the New York Times, so it's not surprising that it has no basis in reality.

To qualify as suspense, it needs to have what Alfred Hitchcock called a "McGuffin." There wasn't one. A McGuffin is some object or goal the main character seeks to solve a problem or defeat the villain. Barriers continually block the character from obtaining the McGuffin, thereby creating suspense. In this book, mysterious lights are central to the tale; but they aren't McGuffins, because the story isn't about obtaining them or about using them to fight the villain. They are, like most everything else in the book, a plot prop.

The book isn't a thriller, for a similar reason (doesn't meet the definition). That doesn't mean it's boring or there is no tension anywhere in the story. It's just not any of the things the NYT reviewer said. It's an action adventure novel. And for that reason, it's light on suspense and the other things that reviewer was gushing about.

If this book were a movie, it would be a B movie (as would just about any action adventure novel). I like B movies, and add them to my entertainment mix. But they are what they are. One of their hallmarks is the characters aren't richly developed. One reason we like B-movies is we don't have to care much about the characters. The plot runs the story, rather than the characters. The author's epilogue reveals his thinking, and from it you can see a plot-driven book is exactly what he intended. Ditto for the Foreword.

In today's B-movies, underdeveloped characters are great because we get very entertaining special effects. But the characters merely serve the plot and are seldom developed beyond the need to do so. Cardboard or cardboard plus, and that's about it.

None of the preceding comments mean the book is bad. I enjoyed it. I just wasn't wowed by it. And I wanted to correct disinformation that is on its jacket.

This book runs about 300 pages. What's on them? The basic plot is a police officer's wife (Tori) disappears, and he (Page) soon locates her in a town called Rostov. For a long time, Rostov has had mysterious lights. She saw them as a child and remembered this while making a long (and secret) car trip for breast cancer surgery (that trip being a bit implausible, to me).

The lights cause people to run amok. There's violence, and then after a few other scenes we find the wife is looking at her husband in a new way and finally understanding him. At the conclusion of the book, they are committed to each other again, and they move to Rostov where he later becomes the police chief.

Maybe it's just me, but I found the name "Page" too close to "Paige" and consequently kept confusing the two main characters until I got halfway through the book. Character names are supposed to communicate things about the character, but then again this wasn't a character-driven book.

Several subplots run through the story. There's a pompous television news guy whose only goal in life is to move up to a major network. His coworkers can't stand him. We get some character development here, as he gradually does a 180 in his worldview. A camerawoman assigned to his crew for this assignment is a key factor there, and she also changes her view.

There's the mysterious Colonel Raleigh, who is doing some sort of experiment. We find out in the book that both his grandfather and his great grandfather had been involved in Rostov's mysterious lights. Raleigh is determined to finish some experiment and finalize some weapon, though it's vague as to exactly what these are.

Earl Halloway is a guard at one of the facilities involved, and he goes insane from the effects of the lights. It's not just lights, but sound. And apparently, he's at ground zero for receiving the sound and light. He kills all of his coworkers and finally is killed by one of Raleigh's men.

One of the effects of this sound is people bleed from their noses, eyes, and other openings until they die. One of the effects of the lights is people become more of whatever their dominant personality or emotion is. We find out toward the end of the book that, in some cases, the lights cure physical ills. Like Tori's cancer.

If you disregard the marketing hype, you'll have the right expectations for this book and probably enjoy it. I've learned not to read jackets until after I've read the book. That's why, for me, this book was an enjoyable read instead of a disappointing one. If you like to add good action adventure novels to your reading mix, you won't regret adding this one.



About these reviews

You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?

I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?

And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.

This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.

My reviews, contrary to current (non) standards, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.

A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.

About your reviewer

  • Books are a passion of mine. I read dozens of them each year, plus I listen to audio books.
  • Most of my "reading diet" consists of nonfiction. I think life is too short to use your limited reading time on material that has little or no substance. That leads into my next point...
  • In 1990, I stopped watching television. I have not missed it. At all.
  • I was first published as a preteen. I wrote an essay, and my teacher submitted it to the local paper.
  • For six years, I worked as an editor for a trade publication. I left that job in 2002, and still do freelance editing and authoring for that publication (and for other publications).
  • No book has emerged from my mind onto the best-seller list. So maybe I'm presumptuous in judging the work of others. Then again, I do more describing than judging in my reviews. And I have so many articles now published that I stopped counting them at 6,000. When did I stop? Probably 20,000 articles ago! (It's been a while).
  • I have an engineering degree and an MBA, among other "quant" degrees. That helps explain my methodical approach toward reviews.
  • You probably don't know anybody who has made a perfect or near perfect score on a test of Standard Written English. I have. So, a credential for whatever it's worth.

About reading style

No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.

Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read.

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