Kent Austin is the beloved football coach in small-town Ohio. His brother Adam is a bail bondsman doing what he can to get by in the same town. Both were star players in high school, but the murder of their sister Marie when Adam was a senior and Kent a freshman sent the brothers spiraling down dramatically different paths in life. The two barely speak to one another, so when a young woman shows up at Adam's office claiming Kent referred her, Adam is skeptical. But all she wants is for Adam to find an address, a simple task and money is money. Until the girl winds up murdered.
Michael Koryta knows how to write a great crime plot; what sets him apart from the pack is his depth of story. THE PROPHET goes beyond the crime and delves into the lives and relationships of the characters inhabiting the novel. The question of who dunnit plays second fiddle to the relationship between Adam and Kent. There is a massive iceberg under the surface that Koryta slowly exposes and explores as Adam searches for the murderer. And Koryta's not happy to merely lay it out for the reader. He pokes it and prods it and otherwise agitates it until the relationship rears its head to reveal its true nature.
Being a Mid-Westerner, it's hard not to identify with the hometown football mentality. This year my classmates and I have been out of high school 20 years. But the world Koryta created in THE PROPHET brought high school back to me as though it was yesterday, or rather as though I should be preparing to leave for two-a-days tomorrow morning.* The relationship between coach and player cannot be underestimated and the relationship between player and player cannot be underestimated. At one point in the novel Kent says to his wife that he needs to be with his family and his wife says, "go be with your team, they're your family, too." The combined stage of life - the young men are very impressionable - and their reliance on each other to function as a successful team, mix in the hours and hours they spend together: conditioning, drilling, practicing, playing; they ARE a family. Koryta illustrates that like an insider so his readers can feel the passion, the pain, the glory, the defeat.
The symbol of the "prophet" plays throughout the novel taking on different levels of meaning, as does the game of football itself. And one of Koryta's favorite sources of symbolism: nature. He uses the birds, the weather, he even interjects some symbolic snakes.
While Koryta has grown and changed as a writer, he still maintains a dark level of humor and a beautiful appreciation of language:
"But life? It didn't card you before it sold you some pain."
"Adam lived in a temple of memories, he could not move forward, his past was his present."
Koryta has returned to the straight crime novel with an effort that provides readers a breath-taking reading experience. Whether you're reading for the plot, the characters, the language or the whole shebang, THE PROPHET offers it up in spades.
Perhaps Koryta missed labeling one prophet in this endeavor. When the cover leads with his name, you know a fantastic read is guaranteed to follow.
THE PROPHET is available tomorrow in hardcover (ISBN: 978-0316122610) from Little, Brown and Company. It is also available from Hachette on audio (ISBN: 978-1619692305), narrated by the amazing Robert Petkoff.
* No, I didn't suit up for our high school team. I was, however, a student assistant for the team the better part of my high school career. While the members of that team don't see each other regularly, the bonds from that period in their lives still exist. They exist for me as well.