By Marty Mulrooney
Shelter is the first instalment in a new series of books aimed at young adults, written by best-selling author Harlan Coben (Tell No One). Coben has previously written several books based around former basketball player turned sports agent Myron Bolitar – in Shelter, the focus shifts to Myron’s estranged nephew Mickey Bolitar, whose father Brad has recently died in a mysterious car accident. A standalone story that is accessible both to newcomers and those familiar with Coben’s work, Shelter follows Mickey as he struggles to make friends, find his missing girlfriend and discover the truth behind his father’s death…
I was walking to school, lost in feeling sorry for myself – my dad was dead, my mom in rehab, my girlfriend missing – when I saw the Bat Lady for the first time.
Shelter aims to thrill from the very first page. Mickey Bolitar has a lot on his mind. His father is dead, his mom is a recovering drug addict and his kinda-sorta girlfriend is nowhere to be found. Then the Bat Lady, an old women living in a dilapidated house on the corner of Hobart Gap Road and Pine – named as such by the local children who use her as a myth to scare each other – opens her front door, points at Mickey and tells him that his father is still alive.
This kick-starts an investigation by Mickey that eventually sees him breaking and entering into the Bat Lady’s house out of sheer desperation, which then puts him on the radar of a mysterious man who drives a black car with tinted windows and always wear aviator sunglasses… Running parallel to this mystery is yet another: the sudden disappearance of Mickey’s girlfriend Ashley, who joined school at the same time and has now disappeared without a trace. Bizarrely, the house she registered with is occupied by a childless couple. Perhaps even more odd, the two mysteries – Mickey’s dad’s death and his girlfriend’s disappearance – seem to be frequently overlapping…
“Hey, you want my spoon?” he asked me. “I barely used it.”
I looked at the tray. “Barely?”
He raised the tray a little higher so I could see. The spoon sat in his syrupy fruit cup.
The supporting characters of Shelter are what make it so special. Mickey is a great protagonist: strong, smart and wiser than his years. However, if he did everything on his own, it would soon wear thin fast. Thankfully, Spoon – a fellow classmate nicknamed by Mickey due to his peculiar initial introduction – adds great comedy value, constantly quoting random facts at inappropriate moments. He is also the son of the janitor, thereby being able to access school after-hours and download surveillance footage. In short, Spoon is the tech guy that fast becomes loveable, is totally clueless and always manages to raise a smile.
Completing the core trio of the gang is Ema, a sarcastic, overweight goth who is initially wary of Mickey, mistaking his genuine friendliness for pity. However, as their friendship grows she comes out of her shell and proves to be quick-witted, resourceful and a great listener. Together, Mickey, Ema and Spoon try to solve the mystery of Ashley’s disappearance whilst dealing with grouchy teachers, muscle-head bullies and the local police chief. Their dialogue sparkles and it is to Coben’s credit that he so effortlessly captures such contrasting personalities and makes them work together.
Derek the bouncer still had me in a killer grip, but we were nearly the same height. I bent my neck forward, tucking my chin to my chest, and then snapped my head back with all my might. The back of my skull landed on his nose like a bowling ball. I heard a crunching sound, like someone stepping on a dried bird’s nest.
Young adult books are often ignored by older readers, but I honestly think that is a huge mistake. Authors such as Marcus Sedgwick and Dan Wells have undoubtedly proven that YA books can be enjoyed by everyone. This debut young adult novel by Harlan Coben is a great example: younger readers unfamiliar with Coben’s work can still enjoy themselves, whilst older readers will enjoy the crossover aspect of the story, especially with the inclusion of regular Coben adult-novel protagonist Myron Bolitar (Mickey’s uncle).
There are some complaints, but they are minor at best. The bad guys can seem a little generic at times and the mystery of Ashley loses some of its impact simply because we get to know her so little. However, as the first instalment of a brand new series, this is a stellar effort. The characters successfully endear themselves to the reader and the twists, whilst extremely well-hidden, click into place beautifully. I have only scraped the surface of what is really going on plot-wise in this review. What’s more, the ending is spine-tingling and shocking, which bodes well for the next book! Shelter is a gripping little thriller than should be bought and read as soon as possible, regardless of the reader’s age. Superb.
9.5 OUT OF 10