SHELTER, Harlan Coben’s newest novel, is the inaugural installment in what is projected as a new thriller series aimed squarely at the Young Adult market. It is subtitled “A Mickey Bolitar Novel,” and, indeed, Mickey is the nephew of Coben’s flagship character, former college athlete turned attorney and sports agent Myron Bolitar. Recent events in Myron’s life introduced Mickey into Myron’s world, so that Myron and Mickey, if not living together, are managing a somewhat uneasy but (usually) peaceful co-existence under one roof, each a bit reluctant to acknowledge how much they are in fact alike. For Mickey, whose father is deceased and whose mother is fighting a losing battle against drug addiction, life is not easy, made even less so by his status as the new kid in the sophomore class at his high school.
"SHELTER is as good as it gets. If Coben’s intent is to create a new audience for thrillers among a younger generation, he will certainly succeed."
SHELTER opens with two somewhat jarring events in Mickey’s life. The first occurs while he passes a house reputed to be occupied by a crazy woman known as the Bat Lady. On the day in question, the woman --- ancient, with long, white hair --- opens her front door and addresses Mickey by name, telling him that his father, whose death Mickey witnessed, is in fact alive.
The second is that Mickey’s erstwhile girlfriend, a willowy beauty named Ashley, has suddenly disappeared from school, and Mickey’s life, without a trace. Mickey does what his uncle would do and begins stumbling through his own investigation of Ashley’s disappearance. He is aided by a couple of school outcasts who gravitate toward him for different reasons. One is an odd lad whom Mickey nicknames Spoon, and who is a fountain of useless information; the other is Ema, a practicing Goth who is too short for her weight and harbors a saucer full of secrets. She also possesses a great deal of loyalty for Mickey, a quality that will hold them both in good stead before SHELTER reaches its end. Then there is Rachel. She is not an outcast at all; every boy wants her, but she only has eyes for Mickey. Rachel is a popular cheerleader, yet her choppy and beautiful waters run very deeply indeed.
This eccentric foursome backs Mickey’s play as he follows a trail into the seedier areas of New Jersey to a world far removed from high school. Mickey pursues one faint clue after another in his attempt to find Ashley, who it turns out is nothing like the girl he thought he knew. Meanwhile, help comes from an unexpected source, which reveals things about Mickey and his family that leave him stunned and wanting to know more.
SHELTER is as good as it gets. If Coben’s intent is to create a new audience for thrillers among a younger generation, he will certainly succeed. His legion of fans in the adult market will no doubt find much to love here as well; in fact, the ending contains a revelation so stunning that there should be at least two generations of readers waiting for the next installment. I would not be surprised if the two series crossed over each other at some point, but for now the Mickey Bolitar series is off to a great start, standing freely on its own.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on September 29, 2011