Written by Harlan Coben — I have it on good authority that most of today’s young adult fiction is about vampires, zombies or wizards, or fits into a category called ‘urban fantasy’. Thankfully, Seconds Away features none of these – and doesn’t comply with the latter description either.
Adult fans of Harlan Coben will already be familiar with sports and celebrity agent-turned-accidental-detective Myron Bolitar. Young followers of Coben know him as the creator of Myron’s teenage nephew Mickey, who is the main character of Seconds Away, although his uncle is a part of it too. This book is Mickey’s second outing, the first being the extremely well received Shelter. But if you haven’t read it, fear not, because that earlier story is rehashed here to bring new readers up to date.
Following the death of his father, which resulted in his mum being admitted into long-term rehab, Mickey has been sent to live with his uncle Myron. He is the new kid in town and having some problems fitting in, but has recruited a small group of friends who join him in his adventures. There’s nerdy Spoon, emo Emma – whose nickname is Ema, geddit? – and Rachel, the cutest girl in school. They are all involved in the mysterious Abeona Shelter, a sort of secret society with a membership that includes the strange Bat Lady and the even stranger Shaved Head.
When Rachel is shot and her mother killed, the remaining members of the gang begin their own investigation into the crime. But their sleuthing is hampered by several things, not least that the local chief of police has a history with Myron and seems determined to pass the bad feeling onto his nephew Mickey. To add to their problems, Spoon is grounded after the gang’s earlier escapades, and Ema has worries of her own that she isn’t prepared to share. Further complicating matters are Mickey’s tryouts for the school basketball team. He’s inherited his uncle’s flair for the game, but can he prove his worth to the coach? Oh, the trials and tribulations of a teenage detective!
The story is certainly nigh on drama, featuring murder, corruption, arson, drug dealing and even some dashes of humour. Coben’s plot has enough twists and turns to keep the reader happy, and the characters are well constructed and utterly believeable, but the book is less than 350 pages long and double spaced, making it a little light on words – perhaps a combination of computer gaming and throwaway TV dramas mean that today’s young audiences prefer their thrillers in small packages? Personally, I loved Mickey and his crew and would have welcomed a longer acquaintance.
My main gripe is the clumsy addition of the Shelter back story, which is overused and leaves newcomers feeling like they’ve arrived late to a party and missed all the fun. The finale also leaves enough loose ends for your granny to knit a Christmas sweater – but at least it gives a clear heads-up that we will be hearing more from Mickey, Ema, Spoon and the rest.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars