Michael Koryta is considered something of a wunderkind. After a background in newspapering here in Indiana and a turn as a private investigator, Koryta began writing books and has turned out several best-selling crime dramas and thrillers. I’ve tried a couple of his previous books but never found his work captivating until “The Prophet.”
Set in an Ohio town that’s seen better days, the book is the story of two brothers, Adam and Kent Austin. Adam is a bail bondsman with a private investigator’s license he never uses. Adam is good at what he does, though. He’s turned the risky bail agent job into a winning one, bonding out and keeping his thumb on his customers. In his personal life, Adam is in a relationship with the woman he fell in love with in high school, although she’s married to a guy who is perpetually in jail.
Kent is the local high school football coach, a beloved, straight-arrow figure who is leading his team to a state championship. He’s married, has kids and the stable home life that Adam doesn’t have.
The brothers haven’t had a strong relationship most of their adult lives, however. When they were in high school, they let their sister walk home by herself from a late night at school. Adam in particular accepted the blame after their sister was killed because he had chosen his girlfriend over taking his sister home. She fell victim to a brutal killer and the Austin family was broken.
Now, as Adam goes about his somewhat sordid business and Kent’s team advances in post-season play, another high school girl turns up murdered. It can’t be the same killer, because their sister’s murderer died in prison. But the new killing is linked to both brothers.
Koryta’s story is smooth and streamlined, introducing some memorable characters but keeping things moving toward its undeniably tragic conclusion.
The author does a good job of mixing football and gritty crime drama. He paints a good portrait of a failing Midwestern town.
I finished “The Prophet” wishing there was more and wondering about what seems like the inevitable: A movie version. A story this concise and sharply drawn almost begs for one.