Book Talk: Michael Koryta, ‘The Prophet’

Like a lot of the Rust Belt, Chambers, Ohio, is marred by non-functioning smoke stacks atop abandoned steel mills and empty store fronts. But crime and high-school football flourish. Michael Koryta’s novel, “The Prophet” (2012, 402 pages) centers on two brothers who have found their niche in this milieu: Adam Austin, a bail-bondsman, and Kent Austin, the head football coach at Chambers High School.


The brothers don’t really talk to each other because of a tragedy that struck during their teenage years.


Their sister Marie was kidnapped and killed. Over the years, Adam has inhabited the family house, making her old bedroom into a shrine; but Kent has moved on, even to the point of visiting her killer in prison and forgiving him.


However, Adam can’t even forgive himself; it was his responsibility to take Marie home when he opted to spend the time with his girlfriend whose father was about to be released from prison and move her and the rest of the family to Cleveland.


Now, almost like déjà vu, a young woman who claims to be a college student has come to Adam for help in finding her father. She claims that she has a letter from him, explaining that he will be released from prison. Adam, who holds a P.I. license, finds an address, gives it to the young woman, even though he believes that it’s best if the two don’t reunite. He thinks nothing more about it until the young woman, who was actually a high-school girl named Rachel, is killed by a man pretending to be her father.


Kent has his own troubles. His undefeated team is just a few games away from the state championship. But Rachel was the girlfriend of Colin Mears, his prized receiver, a boy who is devastated by Rachel’s death. The team wins the next game, despite the fact that Colin drops nearly every ball that is thrown to him.


Adam, who believes that there is some sort of parallel involving the dead girl and the killing of his sister many years ago, promises the girl’s mother that he will find and kill the imposter. During his investigation, it appears that the killer has recently been released from prison and has also been forgiven by his brother, Kent.


Kent becomes involved in the case when his family is threatened by the suspect. He has to try to balance his life between protecting his family and leading his team past their arch-rivals for a shot at the state championship. But, his star receiver, boyfriend of the recently-killed Rachel, can’t seem to hold onto the ball. The complicated plot brings the brothers together in a way that only a great writer could pull off.


Koryta, who gained experience as an apprentice to a private eye while he was in high school, had his first detective novel published when he was only 21 years old. The 39-year-old writer has published 17 best-sellers and award winners: four in the Lincoln Perry series, two in the Markus Novak series, and 11 stand-alones, like “The Prophet.” He is the youngest author to have published adult fiction whose work I’ve read since 18-year-old Françoise Sagan’s “Bonjour Tristesse” when I was in college.


Enjoy.


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Jim Glynn may be contacted at j_glynn@att.net.

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