Three teenagers walking hand-in-hand down a sidewalk

Adrian Greensmith as Spoon, Jaden Michael as Mickey and Abby Corrigan as Ema

It seems like Netflix debuts a new show based on the works of Harlan Coben ’84 nearly every month, and these limited series, adapted from Coben’s stand-alone books and original ideas, have been huge successes for the streaming service. Coben still has a number of Netflix projects in the works, but he switches to a different platform for his latest effort, which is the first Coben adaptation to launch as a potential ongoing series. Amazon Prime Video’s Shelter is based on the first of three Coben novels about Mickey Bolitar, the teenage nephew of Coben’s best-known protagonist, Myron Bolitar. The series is co-created by Coben and his daughter, Charlotte Coben ’17, a screenwriter.

Myron gets only a brief mention in the new eight-episode series, which sends Mickey (Jaden Michael) to live with a different relative as the show begins. Following a car accident that kills his father, Brad  (Kristoffer Polaha), Mickey moves to his dad’s hometown of Kasselton, N.J., to stay with his aunt Shira (Constance Zimmer). Brad’s death already seems suspicious, and Mickey is immediately drawn into another mystery, when a new classmate goes missing after the first day of school.

The novels about Mickey are aimed at a young adult audience, and Shelter combines recognizable teen drama elements with the elaborate plotting and sprawling ensembles familiar from other Coben TV series. Mickey is one of the central characters in Coben’s work, appearing in the novels about his uncle Myron as well as in his own books. This new series gives him a worthy showcase.

Mickey doesn’t investigate Shelter’s various mysteries alone: He quickly connects with a pair of fellow teenage outcasts, the nerdy Spoon (Adrian Greensmith) and the moody Ema (Abby Corrigan), who form an impromptu team of detectives. They have their own headquarters in the school’s abandoned boiler room, which they deck out like a combination of the Batcave and a hipster coffee shop. Shelter spends time getting to know each of these characters. Even supporting players who seem stereotypical at first, like the basketball star who taunts Mickey, eventually show greater depth.

That basketball star is the mouthpiece for a cheeky Amherst reference, as he complains about the food he was served on his supposed campus visit as a prospective student. At least he pronounces the College’s name correctly, unlike his cheerleader girlfriend. There are plenty of humorous moments like that throughout  Shelter, providing levity to contrast with the increasingly heavy situations that Mickey and his friends face as they attempt to locate their missing peer.

Shelter also gives Shira her own substantial subplot: Zimmer has great chemistry with Missi Pyle as Shira’s former high school bestie, with whom she has a sordid history. The soap opera-style storytelling fits well with Coben’s focus on twists and cliffhangers. 

Tuning into each episode, it’s just as enticing to see the consequences of an unexpected hookup as it is to unravel the next secret in the ever-deepening conspiracy. Tovah Feldshuh gives an amusingly hammy performance as the spooky neighborhood recluse known as Bat Lady, who may or may not have something to do with the local disappearances. But ultimately, Shelter is more about the flawed battle against injustice than any cackling villain.

Harlan and Charlotte Coben effectively channel the approach that makes his other TV shows so addictive into a series for a slightly younger audience, without holding back on the lurid details. Shelter’s first season ends with the resolution of some of its mysteries, while opening doors for more. Even as Harlan Coben’s streaming empire expands, Mickey deserves the author’s continued attention, too.

Photo: Michael Parmelee/Prime Video