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Book Review: Shelter by Harlan Coben

Shelter by Harlan Coben Book Review: Shelter by Harlan Coben


You know what they say about throwing rocks at your characters in order to keep things interesting? Well, Mickey Bolitar, hero of Harlan Cobens new spin-off YA series, has had more than a few boulders chucked his way over the past few months: think a Donkey Kong-esque onslaught of barrels of misery. His dads dead, his mothers turned into a junkie, and his almost-girlfriend Ashley has suddenly upped and vanished. (Not to mention that hes just about to start at a new school, and hes just had a run-in with his towns resident Grandma Death.)

Theres not much Mickey can do about his parents, although he suspects that there are a few as yet unearthed mysteries involved there, but Mickey does have a touch of the knight-in-shining-armour inclination that he puts to good use in trying to figure out whats happened to his girlfriend. With the help of cranky goth girl sidekick Ema and nerdy hacker Spoon, Mickey sets about solving the mysteryonly to find that its a far bigger mystery than he might have guessed, and that his family is a part of it.

While its not unusual for a novel such as this to begin with a bang, and indeed this one does, the problem with doing so is that the reader can be left treading water until they figure out whats going on. Readers familiar with Cobens work for older readers, such as the Myron Bolitar series, may have more luck here, but given that were talking about an adult versus a YA audience, Im not sure how true this is. Certainly, I found myself floundering a little as we were flung from a heeby-jeeby Grandma Death scene in to your typical first day of school scene. As obligatory as the cliques-in-the-cafeteria scene is in the YA novel, it does put an odd damper on a novel thats just warned the reader that all sorts of terrible things are going to go down.

Fortunately, Mickey does don his sleuthing hat fairly promptly, and its not long before hes hanging out behind Grandma Deaths home (okay, so her names Bat Lady, but all I can think of is the granny from Donnie Darko), breaking into student lockers, visiting tattoo parlours and staking out strip clubs. Why yes, those last two do feel strangely out of place in a YA novel, but I suppose this stuff is the bread and butter of the crime world.

To be honest, although the mystery has some interesting aspects, the story behind Ashleys disappearance just felt familiar and tired. Instead, its the mystery surrounding Mickeys parents and their connection with Bat Lady thats the really intriguing element of this novel, and I suspect that this aspect will be gradually teased out as this series grows. Unfortunately, the latter gets slightly jumbled up amidst an array of fight and flight scenes, car chases and strip club visits, all of which I found a tad messily written and terribly cliched.'And even after finishing the book, I still cant get past that first scene in which Bat Lady emerges from the depths of her house to croak Your fathers not dead at Mickey whilst pointing a crooked finger at himit just sets such an odd tone for the book, and the book is far more of a thriller than the horror/mystery this first scene would suggest.

I admit to having trouble with some of the characters as well: with the exception of Mickeys family and Ema, they often lean towards being little more than flat archetypes whose use is merely to move the plot forward. Spoon, for example, is good fun, but his role is largely off-stage, and typically involves helping Mickey and Ema get the information they need to further their search for the truth. Ashley, likewise, is essentially a Maguffin: shes the reason for this whole sleuthing business, but plays no role in the book at all. Even the basis for the search seems a little odd, as Mickey seems to have hardly known her at all. Also, is it normal for fifteen year old boys to be 64? Because, goodness, I feel extremely short right now.

Shelter'is a quick read overall, and Cobens sense of humour helps to hide some of the over-the-top plotting, I found it too exaggerated and overblown for my tastes.

Rating: star Book Review: Shelter by Harlan Cobenstar Book Review: Shelter by Harlan Cobenhalfstar Book Review: Shelter by Harlan Cobenblankstar Book Review: Shelter by Harlan Cobenblankstar Book Review: Shelter by Harlan Coben (not bad)

With thanks to Hachette Australia for the review copy

Support Read in a Single Sitting by purchasing Shelter'from

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The Shelter trailer:

Other books by Harlan Coben:

Deal Breaker by Harlan Coben Book Review: Shelter by Harlan CobenStay Close by Harlan Coben Book Review: Shelter by Harlan CobenLive Wire by Harlan Coben Book Review: Shelter by Harlan Coben


  1. Interesting review. You think Coben tried to hard to write a YA book?
    I noticed many authors jumping on the bandwagon, personally I think that writing a YA book would be difficult for authors who arent used to the genre.

    By the way, love the new look of the website.

    • Stephanie /

      Zohar: YAs definitely a burgeoning field at the moment, so Im not surprised by the attempt to cross over into it. Not to mention the fact that teen readers will be primed for his older stuff To be honest, he did quite a good job with the voice, but I just felt this one was a bit formulaic and cliched for my tastes. Having not read his adult stuff I cant really comment on whether this is a misstep for him, or whether its representative of his typical style.

      Melissa: Thanks so much! I havent read Cobens other stuff, but Im curious about the Myron Bolitar books now. I hope your girls enjoy this one. :)

      Shelleyrae: This ones generally received pretty good reviews, and I certainly wouldnt call it a failure by any means. You can tell that Cobens been writing a long time and that hes confident in what he does. I just found that this one didnt quite work for mebut then thats often true of the thriller/crime genre for me.

  2. Love your site! :)I really like Harlan Cobens books. Didnt know about the young adult. Thanks for the great review. Im always looking for books for my girls to read.

    Off to follow you on Facebook! :)

  3. I wondered how successful Coben would be with a YA novel, great review Stephanie

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