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Originally published Thursday, July 23, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Book review

'The Shimmer': beware the lights in the night

In "The Shimmer," author David Morrell takes a real-life phenomenon — lights over Marfa, Texas — and uses it as a premise for a horrifying action thriller. Morrell appears at two locations today, July 23, in the Seattle area.

The Associated Press

Author appearance

David Morrell

The author of "The Shimmer" will appear today at these area locations:

• At noon, Seattle Mystery Bookshop, 117 Cherry St., Seattle; free (206-587-5737 or www.seattlemystery.com).

• At 7 p.m., Bellevue Regional Library, 1111 110th Ave. N.E., Bellevue; free (425-450-1765 or www.kcls.org).

"The Shimmer"

by David Morrell

Vanguard Press, 336 pp., $25.95

Football-sized lights hover over the dark horizon outside Marfa, Texas, bouncing, shimmering, even changing colors. Some can see them, others can't. Theories abound as to what they are, but no one seems to know for sure.

A newspaper article about this real-life mystery inspired David Morrell to give it his own, very creative spin. The result is "The Shimmer," a high-caliber, one-of-a-kind action thriller only the creator of "Rambo" could have conceived and executed to perfection.

In the novel, Marfa becomes Rostov, but otherwise, the two towns are almost identical. Like the real town, Rostov is located in grassland near the Mexican border. Standing a short distance away are a radio observatory, an abandoned World War II airfield, and an observation platform to view the lights. As the author says in the afterword, the novel contains a "surprising amount of 'reality.' "

The story begins as Dan Page, a sheriff's deputy in Santa Fe, N.M., receives a phone call from the Rostov police chief: His wife, Tori, missing for two days, has been found there. Page, a private pilot, hops on his Cessna and flies to the small town. He finds Tori on the observation platform, but before he can have any significant conversation with her, a man appears with an AK-47 and begins shooting toward the lights, shouting "Don't you see how evil they are?" He then turns the gun on a crowd gathered around the platform, killing a dozen.

Are the "Rostov Lights" evil?

Why is Tori so fascinated with them?

Page tries to find out, but he is not the novel's only protagonist. To fully portray what the lights have done to people over some 120 years, Morrell lets several other characters serve as the protagonist in his or her own horrifying encounter with the lights at different times. Featured are Army Col. Warren Raleigh, his grandfather and great-grandmother, an Army sergeant, a radio observatory guard, a TV news anchor, a local resident and a rancher who witnessed the lights as early as 1889. This multilayered approach gives the novel depth, texture, scope, dimension and a sense of immediacy, lifting it far beyond the level of entertainment fiction.

Morrell, often called the "father of the modern action novel," envisions the lights as a force that provokes irrational violence in people. This premise gives him the opportunity to create a number of diverse — and spectacular — action scenes. The author, who has taken courses in firearms and flying, brings stark realism and authenticity to every scene.

Although he has won many awards for his 29 books, including "First Blood," in which Rambo, the Vietnam veteran, made his debut, and more recently, "Creepers," the author is no gun-toting commando in real life. A native of Canada, he holds a Ph.D. in American literature and taught at the University of Iowa before turning to writing full-time. This pedagogical background has prompted one writer to call him, "a mild mannered professor with bloody-minded visions."

With "The Shimmer," where blood flows copiously, he has certainly outdone himself.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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