Having banded together to rescue Mickey’s girlfriend Ashley in Shelter, the first Mickey Bolitar novel (a spin-off of Harlan Coben’s adult series about Mickey’s uncle, sports agent turned detective Myron Bolitar, whom Mickey came to live with after his father’s death and mother’s descent into addiction), Mickey and his friends goth girl Ema and nerdy Spoon are faced with a new mystery when their friend Rachel is shot in the head and her mother murdered. Meanwhile, Mickey is still reeling from news he received suggesting his father’s death might not have been the accident it at first appeared to be.
Stop! If you haven’t read Shelter then do so now, not just because it’s a great mystery, but because Seconds Away isn’t going to make a lot of sense if you haven’t read it. Seconds Away picks up immediately where Shelter left off and about half of the book is devoted to continuing on the storyline about Mickey’s dead father, the Abeona Shelter and the Butcher of Lodz (a Nazi war criminal) which started there. Coben does his best to recap Shelter for readers who have come in late to the series (and those who read it a while ago and have forgotten some of the details), but at best this recap is going to serve as a major spoiler, and at worst, it’s going to confuse.
For people who have read Shelter, Seconds Away is slow to begin with courtesy of the abovementioned recap which dominates the first 50 or so pages, and even once it gets going, never quite reaches the heights of its predecessor. After two books, the storyline about Mickey’s possibly not dead father is getting a bit thin and it’s obvious that Coben wants to continue with it for several books to come, so it never moves more than a baby step or two forward at a time. Yet, the main plot about Rachel’s shooting is a pretty good mystery that will keep you guessing as to what, exactly, happened, and Mickey, Ema and Spoon are such well-drawn characters that reading about their adventures together is a pleasure.
Coben’s highly entertaining and often laugh-aloud funny style, which made the Myron Bolitar books best-sellers, is a good fit for YA fiction, and unlike some other adult fiction writers who have tried their hand at writing for and about teenagers, it seems to come naturally to him. Although Coben would have been better off forgetting about the overarching series plot and instead writing these as a series of linked but essentially self-contained novels, the Mickey Bolitar books are still worth continuing with and will undoubtedly bring a new generation of readers to the "Uncle Myron" books.
Verdict: Newcomers to the series may be confused, but fans of Shelter will enjoy this new opportunity to spend time with Mickey, Ema and Spoon, in spite of the series suffering from a second-book slump.