Friday, December 20, 2013

Spinoff series from an old favorite

I’ve always admired Harlan Coben’s writing, and enjoyed many of his stand-alone mysteries and thrillers, like Gone for Good and Six Years. But I’ve largely avoided his well-known and popular Myron Bolitar series. I have no interest in the world of celebrity athletes, and Bolitar runs a sports agency, so I assumed the plots would be too sports-centered. However, Coben is a great writer, and I like books with teen protagonists, and so I’m edging up to the Bolitar series from the other side—from the point of view of Myron’s fifteen-year-old nephew, Mickey.

In Shelter, the first book of this spin-off Bolitar series, Mickey has just moved in with Uncle Myron and started attending high school as an incoming sophomore. His parents are out of the picture, but not out of his thoughts-- Mickey’s dad died in a car crash the previous year, and his mother, unable to cope, turned to drugs and is currently in rehab. Grief, confusion, and self-loathing run underneath Mickey’s generally easygoing exterior as he tries to move forward. He has a few things common with his newly-found uncle—one is, they’re both very tall, gifted basketball players. But an old rift in the family has left them awkward with one another, and Mickey keeps Myron at a distance, even as Myron tries to respect his space and be a responsible guardian at the same time.

Alas, Mickey and Myron are not left in peace to work things out. When Mickey’s new sort-of-girlfriend stops showing up at school, and her parents claim never to have heard of her, Mickey tries to track her down, drawing three new friends from his high school into the search. They learn that Ashley wasn’t at all what she seemed-- and she’s in danger that’s way over their heads.

Meanwhile, a neighbor known as “Crazy Bat Lady” tells Mickey that his father’s not dead. She locks herself back into her house before he can react. It drives Mickey crazy with heartache and curiosity, leading him to break into the bat lady’s house in a desperate attempt to find out if she's just loopy, or if she might know something. This makes him the target of a great deal of interest from an intimidating bald man in a black car, who turns up wherever Mickey goes.

Coben deftly draws out the multiple plot-lines, focusing on Mickey’s new friendships, which are a source of great strength as events force him into crisis mode. One of his new friends is annoyingly two-dimensional, but otherwise the secondary characters are well-developed. Coben is big on principled heroes, and Mickey is no exception, showing an idealistic devotion to standing up for others and seeing through outward appearances. But he’s also hotheaded, confused, and willing to break rules when necessary—someone most teenagers—or heck, most adults—can relate to. Mickey’s a likeable character, and when you reach the end of Shelter, you’ll be glad to know the second book, Seconds Away, is also available.

As a matter of fact, I liked this book so much, I think I’m going to have to set aside my sports-agency aversion and give the older Bolitar a chance.

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