Reviewed by Jason Barr
JASON BARR is a teacher in Harrisonburg.
Thrillers generally fall into two categories: stories in which the crime itself tends to fall into the background in favor of character development and a deep examination of the crime’s impact on people, and stories in which the crime or violence tend to supersede characterization, instead relying on dramatic set pieces to propel the narrative.
Michael Koryta’s latest novel, “The Prophet,” falls into the former category, and despite a few missteps, it is an enjoyable and thought-provoking work.
“The Prophet” follows two brothers, the often-too-predictable “good” brother, Kent, and the “bad” brother, Adam, whose checkered past continues to haunt him. As teens, they both struggled with the violent murder of their sister; now, another violent homicide has rocked their adult lives.
Koryta’s depiction of the pressures surrounding Kent, a high school football coach, rings true: All across the rural United States, football coaches are viewed as the paragons of their society, unable to do any wrong. As Kent pushes his football team to the state championship, the pressures to perform increase to the breaking point, forcing Kent to play roles for which he is not well suited.
Unfortunately, many of the characters that populate the novel, including Adam and Kent’s wife, Beth, tend to be wooden. At times, Beth’s dialogue seems especially forced, and one wonders if she appears in certain scenes just to be a sounding board for others.
Additionally, Koryta makes the odd decision to include the football teams’ rise to the championships in several chapters interspersed throughout the narrative. The description of these games is often jarring and overly long.
Even so, “The Prophet” does have a gritty mystery at its core, and as Adam stumbles closer to the killer, the tension builds nicely.
For fans of more cerebral thrillers, “The Prophet,” despite a few misfires, does its job well.