If you’re needing a Myron Bolitar fix – Harlen Coben, the first author to win an Edgar, Shamus, and Anthony (three of the top awards for mystery writers), seems to be taking a break from his most persistent protagonist after 10 volumes – then this new series starring Myron’s nephew Mickey is definitely for you. The Mickey Bolitar spin-off is actually targeted for younger readers, but the only details adult readers might find missing are … well, sex and strong language, which have been replaced by the complications of the 21st-century high school caste system.
Mickey (whose given name is actually Myron) is the new-kid-in-town sophomore, relocated to New Jersey under great duress. Having grown up all over the world, his father is now buried in LA, his mother is in rehab, and he’s stuck living with Uncle Myron who is not exactly his favorite person in the world – for various reasons, Myron makes a perfect scapegoat for all of Mickey’s problems. If you’ve read Live Wire (currently, the latest Myron installment at #10), then you know the Bolitar brothers’ complicated history; you’ll also know more than Mickey about his extended family.
Not understanding the local pecking order, Mickey makes quick friends with Ema – a surly, tattooed girl who dresses all in black – and Spoon – the janitor’s son who speaks more in random facts than sentences in sequitur, who immediately announces that he’ll be ‘Donkey’ to Mickey’s ‘Shrek.’ At 6’4″ and 200 pounds, Mickey shares his basketball prowess with his uncle – which provides begrudging opportunity for occasional bonding. For now, Mickey’s keeping his jump shots away from the high school team (‘dumb jock’ barely does justice to some of the more antagonistic seniors), preferring to play pick-up games in grungy Newark away from the more affluent suburb he’s forced to call home.
In Shelter, Mickey’s girlfriend (of two weeks), Ashley, disappears. The search by the dynamic trio of Mickey, Ema, and Spoon, will lead to empty lockers, surveillance tapes, wrong parents, a child kidnapper, and a seedy club called Plan B. Before the last page, three will become four as Rachel, the school’s glam-queen, joins the sleuthing ranks. Of course, the book ends with a mid-action cliffhanger which will make you turn immediately to Seconds Away, which opens with Rachel shot and her estranged mother murdered. While ‘whodunnit’ might get answered, many more questions are left unanswered, setting readers up for the as-yet-unnamed Mickey #3, scheduled to hit shelves later this fall.
In the midst of missing bodies and wayward bullets, Mickey is driven to find out what really happened to his beloved father – whose death he thought he witnessed. But Chapter 1 of Book 1 insists, “‘Your father isn’t dead’” … and somehow the disappearing Bat Lady, a dark suit with dark glasses in a dark limo, a tattooed kidnapper, a Holocaust ‘butcher,’ not to mention unexpected butterflies, are all involved.
Sound convoluted? Definitely. I’m still left unsure how the Holocaust angle will ultimately play out – it felt clumsily tacked on as unnecessary politically-correct-social-statement in Shelter, albeit somewhat better revealed in Seconds. Unbelievable (and obvious) plot twists aside, always-convincing veteran narrator Nick Podehl enhances the action with expert pacing, and in spite of some eye-rolling and head-shaking, you’ll most likely stay with the story stuck in your ears.
Readers: Young Adult
Published: 2011 and 2012