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The Shimmering Road by Hester Young


Genre: Women’s Fiction; Suspense and Thriller
Publication Date: 14 February 2017
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Synopsis from the Publisher:

“A pulse-pounding mystery from the author of The Gates of Evangeline featuring Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Cates, an unforgettable heroine whose dark visions bring to light secrets that will save or destroy those around her . . .

When soon-to-be mother Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Cates begins to have recurring dreams about harm coming to her unborn daughter, she knows these are not the nightmares of an anxious mom-to-be. They are the result of her mysterious gift. But before she can decipher what these dreams might mean, Charlie learns that the mother who abandoned her when she was a toddler is the victim of a double murder in Arizona. The other victim—Jasmine, a half-sister Charlie never knew she had—has left behind a child, a little girl who speaks to Charlie in her dreams and was present on the night of the murders. Convinced that she must help her orphaned niece, Charlie travels to Tucson, Arizona, where she must confront her painful ties to her mother and delve into her sister’s shadowy past.

To untangle the web of secrets that will reveal the truth of her nightmares, Charlie can no longer avoid her family’s checkered history. Who is in the racy photos that turned up in Jasmine’s apartment? Where is her niece’s father, whom Jasmine was rumored to have been seeing again on the sly? Was her mother’s charity work in Mexico really as selfless as it seemed? And most important of all, what did her niece really witness on the night of the murders?

The search for answers leads Charlie across the Mexican border, from the resort town of Rocky Point to the border town of Nogales, and elucidates the meaning of her dreams in most unexpected ways. Ultimately, to protect her niece and her unborn child, Charlie must battle not just evil but the forces of nature, in one final terrifying encounter in the Tucson desert.

A thrilling mystery that combines literary suspense and romance with a mystical twist that is unputdownable. If you love Kate Atkinson and Alice Sebold, you should not miss Hester Young.”

My Thoughts: The Gates of Evangeline, our first introduction to Charlie Cates and her special talent, was a great story in part because of the setting. A mansion set in the Louisiana bayous comes ready-made for spooky happenings. The two go together perfectly, so well in fact that you accept Charlie’s talent as normal. After all, in such a setting one expects ghosts and hauntings.

In The Shimmering Road, Charlie’s adventures take the reader to Tucson and Nogales, Arizona. The harsh desert sun is the exact opposite of the shadowy bayou, and the story suffers for it. Gone are the Gothic feel, the danger hiding within the shadows, and the general mood of danger and apprehension. Now, there are no shadows and no places to hide. Readers find the danger on the Mexican side of Nogales in murky bars and rundown hotels, but the relentless sun still sets the mood as decidedly not spooky or mysterious.

Charlie too is different. In this story, she is nine months pregnant. This should not be a big deal, but her actions do not coincide with her thoughts and emotions. On the one hand, her thoughts and words are very much that of a hyper-hormonal pregnant woman on the verge of giving birth. Her thoughts are irrational, her reactions are even more so. However, her actions are anything but that of a pregnant woman. It is as if her every waking thought is about her child, but when it comes time to, say, investigate strip clubs in Mexico, asking questions that she knows will put her in danger, she does so without a thought. The disconnect is aggravating. In fact, it is almost as if her pregnancy is another convenient plot device to be used when the situation calls for drama and ignored when it doesn’t.

Putting that aside, Charlie spends most of the novel discovering firsthand the disparity between the United States and Mexico, particularly those unfortunate souls caught in the severest of poverty in border towns. Given the ongoing controversy regarding a wall between the two countries, the subject matter is timely. However, one cannot read the novel without wondering just how much license Ms. Young took in creating her story. The funny thing is that you don’t wonder if Ms. Young exaggerated things but if she added some rose tint to her outlook. Given how neatly her story ties together in the end, you end up with the suspicion that Ms. Young sanitized her Nogales and Tucson, which is saying something because the picture she paints is not pleasant. You are also left with the feeling that what she presents is just the way things are there, and there is not much anyone can do about it. It is a rather defeatist impression you get, and I cannot work out whether it is intentional or not.

The Shimmering Road is not necessarily a bad story, but it does not stand up to comparisons to The Gates of Evangeline. In spite of its obvious weaknesses, Charlie’s search for answers is entertaining if not wholly engaging. Like the first novel, the story is essentially a stand-alone with minimal references to what occurred in Louisiana and a mystery that is completely resolved by the last page. I don’t know that I am committed to Charlie enough to want to find out what Hawaii holds for her (the setting of the final novel), but The Shimmering Road gave me some mindless pleasure for a few hours.

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