Harlan Coben’s Shelter review, mystery with teen heroes

Jaden Michael, Adrian Greensmith, and Abby Corrigan in Harlan Coben's Shelter

Harlan Coben’s Shelter brings teens to the front as the heroes in this mystery thriller. I’ve seen many Harlan Coben series. This was not the best one. I watched the first two episodes thinking the plot was too far-fetched. Although the characters and the mystery drew me in over time, I continued to struggle to find that willingness to believe much of the plot.

Harlan Coben’s Shelter should appeal to teens, however. It’s an inspiring story of outsiders who do heroic things and save lives. It’s also plenty spooky and has some great humorous moments. The characters are well done and appealing.

We’re taken into the plot when Mickey’s (Jaden Michael) family are in a car wreck. His father is killed, his mother is in the hospital for depression. His father is carried from the scene of the car wreck by a mysterious paramedic with a big scar on his face.

Mickey is sent to their old home town in New Jersey to live with his Aunt Shira (Constance Zimmer). Although Mickey and his family have lived all over the world, his name is well known in town. His father and aunt were well known high school basketball stars. Mickey is expected to play basketball, too. His mother is a tennis champion.

Jaden Michael in Harlan Coben's Shelter
Jaden Michael as Mickey leads the large cast

Mickey is 16 and new in school. He is befriended by Spoon (Adrian Greensmith), a nonstop talker who is an outsider. He meets Ashley (Samantha Bugliaro) and develops an instant crush on her.

Ashley disappears the next day. It turns out other kids have disappeared in this town. Mickey, Spoon, and Ema (Abby Corrigan), another outsider, are determined to find Ashley. We’re a good way into the 8 episodes of the series before it’s clear that the main mystery is about missing, stolen and kidnapped children.

There are many subplots. Between the school setting, the adults around the teens, and the bad guys there was a lot going on.

Mickey meets the spooky Bat Lady (Tovah Feldshuh) who tells him his father is still alive. The Bat Lady knows all about him and his father and dispatches a scary guy, Sunglasses Man (Hunter Emery), to follow him around. Of course, Mickey wants to find out if the Bat Lady is telling the truth. He learns some surprising things about his family.

Mickey’s Aunt Shira only came back to care for Mickey. She’s now a lawyer in NYC. We quickly realize she has history with the Police Chief (Brian Altemus) and his wife Hannah (Missi Pyle). She dated them both in high school. The only one she’s still interested in is Hannah. Hannah returns the interest in a big way.

If you listed all your dream combinations for a lesbian romance with women in their 40s you would probably never see Constance Zimmer and Missi Pyle on the list, but they had great chemistry. They earned a spot on your list with Shelter.

Jaden Michael, Adrian Greensmith, and Abby Corrigan in Harlan Coben's Shelter

The three heroes are busy searching for Ashley, which is dangerous and scary. They also do normal teen things like play basketball and try out for the school musical. Ema gets a girlfriend. (Two lesbian storylines in a Harlan Coben mystery is a first, I think.) And, oh yeah, they uncover a kidnapping ring and a group of world class saviors who rescue and shelter children. They figure out what happened with Mickey’s dad.

The entire cast did an excellent job. There were some surprising choices – for instance casting Adrienne Barbeau as Mickey’s grandmother. Didi Conn did a terrific job as a history teacher.

Charlotte Coben developed the series for television based on the novel by her father Harlan Coben. Christina Choe, Deborah Kampmeier, and Patricia Cardoso were the women directors. The series is on Prime Video and FreeVee.

Are you familiar with the Water’s Soul statue in Jersey City? I was not. Some of the most beautiful scenes in the series were shot by it. There were atmospheric dark places the teens ventured, such as a dungeon-like basement, a sketchy nightclub, and a creepy old mansion.

Even the “not best” Harlan Coben story is entertaining for this mystery lover. Plot twists, surprises, action, danger, and good characters drag you along. With this one, you have to be willing to overlook a lot of problems with believability, however.

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