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Looking for an unconventional thriller? Read this book

A review of The Prophet, by Michael Koryta

@@@@ (4 out of 5)

I grew up in a gritty Ohio industrial town before industry fled and the rust set in. But Lima, Ohio, in the 1950s seemed a lot more like Buzz Bissinger’s Odessa, Texas, in Friday Night Lights than nearby Chambers, Ohio, of The Prophet by Michael Koryta. Even nearly 60 years ago, the racial tensions, the gangs, and the class conflicts were clearly in evidence in my home town, just as they were in Odessa decades later. Those overarching facts of life in the Rust Belt were hard to find in Chambers.

Instead, the story Koryta tells is a tale of two brothers whose lives are dominated by football and by the senseless murder of their sister 22 years ago. Adam Austin, the elder brother, now 40 and a bail bondsman, led Chambers High School to the team’s last state championship as a bruising running back who cleared the field for one touchdown after another. His younger brother, Keith, is the winning football coach with an unbeaten team that could go all the way again this year. Keith, a devoutly religious man who is as much minister to the team as coach, is married and has two young children. Adam lives with the the love of his life, his high school sweetheart, now married to a man in state prison. With the murder of his sister still vivid in his mind on a daily basis, he spends most of his time either chasing criminals or bailing them out.

Adam and Keith are suddenly shocked out of their routines when a 17-year-old woman, the girlfriend of Keith’s all-state running back, is brutally murdered the night the Chambers football team wins a place in the state finals. Rachel Bond’s death so clearly parallels their sister’s so many years ago that both brothers are drawn deeply into the unfolding investigation and the violence that follows.

The fictional town of Chambers figures in this story in its obsession with football, its economic troubles, and its location in Northeastern Ohio on the shores of Lake Erie, where rain and snow and cold penetrate every nook and cranny of life.┬áHad Koryta delved more deeply into the underlying fissures of the town’s society, The Prophet might have achieved literary distinction. However, as a novel of suspense that holds the reader’s attention until the last mystery is solved, this book is superb.

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