Monday, April 18, 2016


SHELTER by Harlan Coben (Indigo, 2011)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Mickey Bolitar's year can't get much worse. After witnessing his father's death and sending his mom to rehab, he's forced to live with his estranged uncle Myron and switch high schools. A new school comes with new friends and new enemies, and lucky for Mickey, it also comes with a great new girlfriend, Ashley. 

For a while, it seems Mickey's train-wreck life is improving - until Ashley vanishes. Mickey follows her trail into a seedy underworld to discover this seemingly sweet, shy girl isn't who she claimed to be. And neither was Mickey's father.

Harlan Coben's first foray into the young adult market, following 20 thrillers that have scooped awards, topped bestseller lists, and sold tens of millions of copies, is a very assured one. Coben not only introduces a new teenage hero who offers plenty of interest in this book and plenty of possibilities for an ongoing series, he also gives longtime readers a different perspective on his popular sports agent cum investigator Myron Bolitar,

Mickey Bolitar is faced with that crushing teenage situation: being the new kid at high school. He's come to live with his Uncle Myron after a series of family tragedies, and he's truculent, disgruntled, angry. Despite his uncle's best efforts, he doesn't want to talk about it, and doesn't want to be there. Fortunately some unlikely new friends at his new high school alleviate the pain for a while, providing light at the end of a dark tunnel. Along with his new girlfriend Ashley, there's goth-girl Emma and the quirky 'Spoon'. So when Ashley disappears, Mickey is understandably determined to find her - he can't lose another person he cares about from his life. But when Mickey discovers Ashley might have been lying to him all along, will uncovering the truth be an even bigger blow for this troubled teen?

One of the things I enjoyed most about this book is that - unlike John Grisham's THEODORE BOONE - I didn't feel Coben had dumbed his style down or oversimplified things for his target audience of younger readers. This is a book that adults can enjoy as much as teens, without feeling shortchanged. SHELTER may centre on a group of high school kids, but it contains plenty of the twist-filled storylines, intriguing cast of characters, wry humour, and thematic touches (old secrets, loss, redemption) that have made Coben’s adult novels so popular with readers and critics alike

There is some pretty dark and gritty stuff in SHELTER, as the world Mickey finds himself investigating is not one for kids, even if kids can get caught up in it. But Coben nicely balances this with regular doses of humour too, so the book felt pretty balanced to me. I appreciated that Coben didn't shy away from some tough topics, addressing a number of things in SHELTER.

It was also interesting to get a different perspective on Myron Bolitar - who is usually the relatively assured, competent, and cool hero of many Coben novels. Here, seen through the eyes of his disillusioned teenage nephew, he's an annoyance, a bumbling uncle who gets in the way, and isn't half as wonderful as most people in Myron's life think he is. The relationship between Mickey and Myron is quite a fascinating one, and once again Coben draws us in with an intriguing family dynamic and focus on very human characters alongside his page-turning mystery/thriller plotline.

Overall, I heartily enjoyed SHELTER, and would recommend it to any younger reader who would like a bit of high quality crime and thrills in their reading, rather than just dystopian worlds or vampire love stories. A good read for adult crime fans too.


I read this back in 2011, but didn't fully review it at the time as I was writing a feature on Harlan Coben for the New Zealand Listener. This new review is based on notes, a mini-review I did in the feature, and further reflections. 

Craig Sisterson is a New Zealander who writes for newspapers and magazines in several countries. He has interviewed 150 crime and thriller writers, discussed the genre at literary festivals and on national radio, and is the Judging Convenor of the Ngaio Marsh Award. You can follow him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

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