Michael Koryta’s ninth novel The Prophet is the perfect preface to the New Year ahead. It is a suspenseful and thought provoking tale of crime (of course), with an interesting side of belief, and a heavy smattering of redemption.
Set in the suffering town of Chambers in Northern Ohio, The Prophet returns to the more grounded writing style that Koryta became known for before his foray into more supernatural themes. It is a consuming read, but not in the sizzling pulp crime thriller way that you would perhaps expect.
It’s not an extremely fast paced novel; nether is it so slow that you’ll leave it absent-mindedly next to your morning coffee. It doesn’t give you a thrilling insight into the mind of the killer past the preface, and there is no keyboard whacking hackers or sassy forensic science. The brilliance of this novel lies in both the depth of Koryta’s characters, and in his ability to reveal the story in tiny portions as you read. The suspense generated by this slow reveal is devastatingly hard to resist.
The Prophet opens by introducing the ‘supposed’ murderer and the two protagonists of the story. Adam and Kent Austin are brothers with very little in common. Adam, a whisky drinking, slightly pay-check-focused bail bondsman, and Kent, a god faring Chambers football coach and family man, are both struggling with the death of their sister twenty years earlier. Each of them still lingers on the shame of their involvement in the lead up to her rape and murder. Adam drinks and talks to his dead sister in their old family home, and Kent coaches and talks to prisoners about God.
When the Chambers star football player’s girlfriend, is found murdered, the brothers become aware that her death is inadvertently connected with their actions. Once again, they find themselves responsible for a young girl’s murder. Adam and Kent are forcefully reconnected, and soon find that their survival depends on believing in each other for the first time since their sister’s death.
This is where Koryta’s title “The Prophet” shows its significance. Each of the main characters, and many of the minor characters in this novel have someone or something that they believe in. This cycle of belief shows each character as a prophet to another; echoing the idea that we all both follow, and are followed, believe and are believed in.
There are a few elements to this book that not everyone will like. Firstly, it is a very masculine novel. The women in this book play a limited role as predominantly support characters. I happily stand up to my identification as ‘a bit of a feminist’ – but I found, that as this story focuses on the two brothers and their very ‘male’ relationship, I didn’t actually mind that the wives and girlfriends in the story lacked the depth of the male characters. They still seemed to have strength to them, and although I didn’t get to know them as well, I don’t think I really needed to. It doesn’t hamper the story, and adds to the masculine ideology and relationships that Koryta’s story focuses on.
The book is saturated in American football references, which I found didn’t decrease my engagement in the book at all. It may have actually contributed to my understanding of Adam and Kent, to whom this game was extremely redemptive and important. The dialogue and scenes where football was the main subject matter were not boring or annoying. They were insights into the connection between Adam, Kent and Chambers, and the only thing the brothers really had left when their relationship deteriorated – harking back to the question, when we are in a tight place, what do we believe in strongly enough to keep us going?
The supposed antagonist, introduced at the beginning of the novel, is largely left alone until the last few chapters. The introduction had me expecting a fear inducing, sleep affecting, serial killer. I expected to read about a sickening childhood and messages left at crime scenes. Instead, the absence of the antagonist allowed Koryta to push my focus to the other side of crime, the side we don’t really read about, the fearful families, and their reach for something to believe in when the world is ripped apart by death and loss. By the end of the novel the need for a shadowy villain is inescapable, although some may find it puzzling to read a story with a villain MIA.
Koryta has elegantly pulled the jigsaw pieces of this story together in a way that I think will resonate with anyone who is struggling with belief in themselves or in others. The subtle plot direction and strong emotional reactions help make this book the perfect read for anyone considering how the past can shape the future, or how atonement and redemption can be an elusive but fulfilling goal. The Prophet’s strong themes of family support through trials and suffering reflect the kind of relationships we all have with family. And after Christmas has just passed, the book proves to be not only a suspenseful thriller with a psychological and religious edge, but also a heart warming to tale in which shows that suffering can bring people together through belief in each other.
I think that’s something wonderful to be reminded of as we walk into 2013, with or without family.
Published in America in 2012 by Hodder & Stoughton