Hot diggity! How can you lose by reading a gritty whodunit about football, even if you're not a football fan? Here's the thing: You can't. Even if you can't tell a cornerback from a lineman. Because, see, I don't even know the difference between those two positions and I loved this book.
What I do know about football is that it's a full contact sport that requires planning and strategy and pits two teams against each other in a battle where wits can defeat muscle some of the time. I also know that Michael Koryta takes full advantage of the football theme in The Prophet. It serves as a story arc, a metaphor and - most interestingly - structure for this dark thriller. I expect nothing less from him. His novels are complex, his characters are darkly compelling, and his sense of timing (key in both football and mysteries) is impeccable.
We start out with two guys. Kent and Adam Austen. They're brothers but they're estranged. Kent is a born-again Christian do-gooder high school football coach, married, father of two. His team is at the end of their first winning season in a long time. They could, as they say in this Ohio town, "take state." Meaning they could win the state championship. The pressure is on.
Adam, on the other hand, is the Austen family's black sheep. This former high school football hero - who went by the epithet The Prophet on his old team - has become a commercial bail bondsman-cum-sometime detective. He's single and living in sin with a married woman whose hubby is in prison.
The murder of a young girl is the incident that eventually brings the brothers together, pitted against a common foe: a killer who calls himself The Prophet. Kent plays defense and Adam, because of his character and history, plays offense the only way he knows how. And here's Koryta's genius. As Kent's football season rises to a game-to-game crescendo, the game between the Austen brothers and the killer advances play-by-deadly-play until it looks as though it's fourth down and goal, do or die for the good guys, and you, my dear reader, are on the very edge of your seat. You think the winning goal is about to be scored and you're cheering. Yeah. Cheering.
But Koryta throws no Hail Mary passes.* Every scene unfolds in exact formation according to his play book. Every character rings true. He gets and holds your attention, and keeps you engaged by methodically exposing new aspects of his characters. You think you know them and you do. But each bit of new information adds depth. In that depth of character and story lie keen insights into family, personal history, loss, grief and retribution. So read The Prophet for the thrill of the game. Or read it for the gut level human insight. But do read it!
*Wikipedia defines the Hail Mary pass thusly: "in American football...any very long forward pass made in desperation with only a small chance of success, especially at or near the end of a half."
This review was originally published in September 2012, and has been updated for the August 2013 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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