BOOK REVIEW – Seconds Away by Harlan Coben

By Marty Mulrooney


Seconds Away is the follow-up to the 2011 novel Shelter by Harlan Coben (Tell No One). Written for young adults but still accessible to older readers too – the main protagonist of both books is Mickey Bolitar, nephew of former basketball player turned sports agent Myron Bolitar, whom many of Coben’s regular fans will be familiar with – this highly anticipated sequel delves deeper still into the world of the mysterious Abeona Shelter, as three unlikely teenage heroes try to solve an ongoing murder investigation and hunt down the Butcher of Lodz…

There are moments in your life that change everything. One second your world is one thing, the next – snap! – it is completely altered. Like, up becomes down. Left becomes right. Death becomes life.

Seconds Away begins moments after Shelter’s cliffhanger ending, with Mickey Bolitar looking at a photo of the Butcher of Lodz, a sadistic Nazi who supposedly died at the end of World War II. The only problem is, the man in the photograph is also the paramedic who took away Mickey’s father after he died in a car crash.

It is highly recommended that Shelter is read first before attempting to read Seconds Away, although Harlan Coben does a fantastic job of bringing the reader up to speed without simply filling the opening chapter full of exposition. Mickey has little time to ponder the troubling implications of the photograph given to him by the mysterious ‘Bat Lady’ before he gets drawn into yet another mystery, this time involving his friend Rachel.

“From the beginning, word for word.”
“I don’t understand. Why do you need to know word for word?”
”Because,” Homicide Investigator Dunleavy said, “right after you finished talking to her, someone shot Rachel Caldwell in the head.”

The mystery of the first book was centered around the disappearance of Mickey’s girlfriend Ashley. In Seconds Away, the central mystery focuses on a shooting that involves Mickey’s friend Rachel. Running parallel to the unofficial investigation of this crime, Mickey is determined to track down the Butcher of Lodz and uncover the truth about his father’s death.

As with Shelter, Seconds Away features an extremely likeable protagonist and some absolutely fantastic supporting characters. Spoon is funnier (and more loyal to Mickey) than ever – at one point he declares that he has a ‘meeting of the MILF club’ (Musicals I Love Foundation) to attend, much to Mickey’s disbelief. Ema is still a strong female character who supports Mickey emotionally every step of the way, an overweight goth with a highly sarcastic tongue and a heart of gold. Seconds Away reveals a lot about Ema’s secretive home life and explains why she is the way she is – these moments are some of the book’s finest.

As you can imagine, I got the first, second, third and fourth degree from Myron. Despite Angelica Wyatt’s pleading, I still didn’t trust him. I knew that maybe I should. I knew that when the chips where down, I had indeed called him for help. But both Bat Lady and Shaved Head had warned me not to say anything to Myron.

Seconds Away is a highly pleasing sequel that is also a taut little thriller in its own right. It doesn’t quite have the same impact as Shelter did before it, and like its predecessor it often becomes a victim of its own relentless pace. We never really got to know Mickey’s girlfriend Ashley as more than just a plot device and Rachel often comes across in much the same way here.

Regardless, Harlan Coben has once again successfully written for a younger audience without dumbing down. The plot is full of twists and turns, the mixture of action, detective work, and school trials and tribulations (including basketball tryouts) is a delight – and the eternal question of whether to lie for a lifetime to protect someone or face the music and tell the truth is a potent one indeed. This is becoming a truly wonderful series and the next book cannot arrive soon enough. Once again, superb!

9 OUT OF 10

BOOK REVIEW – Shelter by Harlan Coben

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