Jamie Reviews: Harlan Coben's "Shelter"


Having never read any of Coben’s previous novels, I started Shelter in a state of objectiveness; after reading my way through the book, I found this lack of bias helped me get into the foreign headspace. Shelter is a very American book. That isn’t to say that there is anything wrong with the American culture but it is reflected very heavily in the setting, the characters, even the use of language. The setting, a basketball-obsessed town, is pretty typical of a lot of the media that comes out of the USA. Most of the characters are jocks, cheerleaders and a sprinkle of the usual alternative lifestyles, including a goth girl named Ema and a hyperactive computer expert named Spoon. And, to be honest, it took me a while to get into the swing of the storyline because of these all too familiar elements.

Once you get past the rather slow beginning, the plot starts to take some pretty radical turns and becomes something difficult to put down. Mickey Bolitar, a rather hardened high school student, with his father dead and mother in rehab, is startled when he receives a cryptic message that his father is still alive from the Bat Lady: a member of his neighbourhood who is more myth than reality. Around that time his girlfriend vanishes without a trace, leaving him in what would politely be called a state of confusion.

What follows is a pretty solid mystery story involving tattoo artists, strange symbols, confusing gravestone epitaphs, violent strip-club owners and a man nicknamed “The White Death”. There are some pretty strong undercurrents in Shelter that do more than just pull the plot along; the human condition is as much a part of this novel as the ‘boy tries to find girl’ aspect. The subject of white slavery comes up more than once, as do war atrocities and human rights abuse. Shelter may start a little slow but it builds momentum quickly. There is plenty to enjoy and the ending sets the scene perfectly for at least one sequel.

Shelter – Harlan Coben

Published Sept 6, 2011, by Putnam Juvenile

Hardcover, 288 pages

  • ISBN-10: 0399256504
  • ISBN-13: 978-0399256509

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