Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Book Review: Shelter by Harlan Coben

Shelter is the first book of a series starring Mickey Bolitar, the nephew of the now famous sports agent and part -or rather, most- time detective Myron.
     Mickey has just moved in into his uncle’s house and their relationship is, for the time being, if not hostile, at least tense. Myron once had a big fall out, if you can call it that, with his brother and Mickey’s father, and since then things between them have fallen apart. Despite Myron’s willingness to let bygones be bygones, Mickey who’s recently lost his dad, while his mom is in rehab, is not that eager to form any kind of bond with him. Truth be told, life has never been easy for Mickey; exciting maybe, but not easy. He was born in Chiang Mai province in Thailand and his life, until recently, was like that of a nomad. Following in his parents footsteps who were volunteers for various NGO’s, he’s lived in Africa, Asia, Latin America and elsewhere, and so he was unable to make any really good friends, while his education, though rich, could be better be described as sporadic. He spent year after year collecting bits and pieces of knowledge that’d probably sometime in the future prove useful, but which for the time being left him feel somehow wanting. However, that future is now here and it’s up to him to work things out in a new city, Newark, and in a new school.
     Well, at the beginning, luck seems to be by his side, since from his very first day at school he meets Ashley, a beautiful, kind girl with whom he falls in love. Not before too long though she just seems to vanish from the face of the earth and as expected he feels at a loss. Where did she go? Has anything bad happened to her? He has to find her; he needs to do that; but how? He doesn’t know how, but as he’s soon to find out he’ll not be alone in his quest, as he’ll become friends with two of the least popular people at school: the streetwise Ema and a seemingly worthless, but nevertheless clever boy whom he calls Spoon.
     So the three of them will start investigating the case together and they will soon come to realize that there’s more to it than they had ever imagined, since everything suggests that Ashley has been kidnapped. Behind this abduction though lies a bigger mystery, a world full of danger, secrets and lies; a world they have to infiltrate in order to discover the truth and save her life. The investigation will lead them to strip bars and tattoo parlors, and even to a haunted, according to the locals, house, and time and again they will come face to face with great danger and in close contact with fierce criminals. During the whole ordeal Mickey will come to realize that things are never exactly the way they seem to be and that more often than not our personal truths are no more than big illusions.
     The author drives his heroes into strange and dangerous situations, he trips them over and makes them smile, he gives them some true life lessons, but also lessons in history, and he makes them fight with their demons in order to overcome them. Mickey is, whether he likes it or not, a younger copy of his uncle Myron: he’s stubborn and strong, and believes in a cause, whatever that may be. Spoon on the other hand is one of those guys that everyone else describes as a loser, but given the chance, he’s bound to prove them wrong. As for Ema, well, Ema is a star: she’s a tough girl and a Goth, with a strong will and no fear, and with a sense of humor that cannot easily be matched by others; she’s one of the best fictitious characters I’ve ever met.
     This book is the perfect start to a new series of adventure stories. And even though according to the publisher its target group is young adults, I feel confident that the author’s regular readers will enjoy it just as much. Coben here seems to have placed a bet with himself, and I dare say that he won that bet already.

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