To say that Harlan Coben is prolific is an understatement. He’s written 11 Myron Bolitar mysteries (another featuring Myron’s friend, Win), 19 stand-alones, and several more. In 2011, Coben launched a YA series featuring Myron’s nephew, Mickey. The first, Shelter, is now an eight-episode Amazon Prime series starring Jaden Michael as Mickey. Don’t let the YA label dampen your enthusiasm for this edge-of-the seat thriller. The young actors, all rising stars, are supported by a cast of veterans, including Constance Zimmer and Tovah Feldshuh. There are special effects galore and it’s all pulled together with a script that bears the hallmarks of Coben’s plot twists and turns.
The opening finds Mickey, along with his father, Brad (Kristoffer Polaha), and mother, Kitty (Narci Regina), playing basketball on the beach. Brad’s older brother, Myron, was an NBA star until an injury ended his career; Mickey has inherited his uncle’s talents. These happy moments are followed by a horrific crash when a tractor trailer T-bones the Bolitar car. Mickey watches helplessly as his father is placed on a gurney and loaded into an ambulance by an EMT worker with a facial scar.
Missi Pyle (Hannah), Constance Zimmer (Shira Bolitar)
With Brad dead and Kitty, once a tennis star, in a facility being treated for depression, Mickey goes back to his father’s childhood home in Kasselton, New Jersey. His aunt, Shira (Zimmer), leaves her Seattle legal practice to care for Mickey. They are grieving Brad’s death and trying to navigate their relationship. Shira, who never married, admits that she has no maternal instincts, let alone what it takes to parent a teenager. Her life is further complicated when she reconnects with her best friend, Hannah (Missi Pyle), who is married to Shira’s high school boyfriend, now Kasselton’s police chief. Their son, Troy (Brian Altemus), worried about his parents’ marriage, warns Shira not to go near his father.
Jaden Michael (Mickey Bolitar)
Mickey’s basketball skills help him find his footing in a new high school. He connects with one of the first students he meets, Ashley (Samantha Bugliaro). When she disappears, Mickey is determined to find her. He’s aided in his search by two brilliant misfits, Spoon (Adrian Greensmith) and Ema Winslow (Abby Corrigan). Central to their investigation is a large, foreboding mansion where a mysterious woman, called the Bat Lady (Feldshuh), lives. As children, Shira dared Brad to go into the house. He did and came out changed. Shira still feels guilt about bullying her brother, while Mickey is determined to confront Bat Lady about his father.
Mickey learns that Bat Lady is Lizzy Sobek, a holocaust survivor, who was credited with saving the lives of many children. Since coming to the U.S. after the war, she continues to rescue children in danger. She saw something in the young Brad Bolitar that led her to enlist him in her cause. Mickey knew that his father ran a non-profit but had no idea that his father was involved in supporting Bat Lady’s efforts. Now that Brad is gone, she’s focused on Mickey. He’s not the only one looking for Ashley. Bat Lady, and her body guard, a man who wears sunglasses and an eye patch, have been hunting for Ashley, too.
The details fleshing out Bat Lady’s operation, who is involved, and what it will take to bring the criminals to justice, trickles out during the eight episodes. (No surprise that some of these cliffhangers are delivered at the end of an episode, making it hard to hit stop on the remote.) Some suspension of beliefs is needed when Mickey and his friends enter enemy territory and, despite being surrounded by dozens of men with guns, manage to escape.
Brian Altemus (Troy)
The young cast is talented and appealing. Coben gifts them with enough background to formulate their character’s personalities, history, and motivations, and they make the most of this information. Jaden Michael’s Mickey is the main character and his stellar performance carries the series. Besides Greensmith and Corrigan, the other young actors include Sage Linder as head cheerleader Rachel, Alexa Mark as Whitney, Altemus’ Troy, and Antonio Cipriano as Buck.
Didi Conn plays high school teacher, Mrs. Friendman. (Her voice alone will be familiar to Grease fans who remember her playing Frenchy, the beauty school droput.) Feldshuh seems to be having the time of her life playing Bat Lady. Kudos to the costume, wig, and makeup people who transformed her into a formidable figure who is, at turns, intimidating and affectionate.
Harlan Coben’s Shelter is now streaming on Amazon Prime.
Top photo: Adrian Greensmith (Arthur “Spoon” Spindell), Jaden Michael (Mickey Bolitar), Abby Corrigan (Ema Winslow)
Photos courtesy of Amazon Studios.