The Prophet Review
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As the temperatures begin to drop and the kids return to school, football fans flock to the local stadium each weekend to cheer on the home team. For the kids on the field, the coaches on the sidelines, and even some of the spectators in the stands, football is everything. But sometimes, as in author Michael Koryta’s The Prophet, real life gets in the way.

More than two decades ago, as the Chambers High School football team was in the middle of its last successful run for the state championship, Marie Austin was abducted and murdered. Since then, not a day has gone by that her older brother, Adam, hasn’t felt responsible for her death. He’s tried to run from it, leaving their small, run-down old steel town behind, but he ended up back in Chambers, working as a bail bondsman and living in the family’s home with his sister’s memory.

Adam’s younger brother, Kent, meanwhile, has thrived. A loving husband and father—and a man of great faith—he’s now coaching the school’s football team to what promises to be their first state title since the year of Marie’s death. But when another teenage girl is found murdered, the town is shocked—and the Austin brothers are forced to revisit their tragic past.

In The Prophet, Koryta mixes loss, regret, and high school football to tell a remarkably human story. While his most recent books—like The Ridge—have featured some kind of eerie, supernatural element, the only thing that haunts The Prophet is the ghost of Marie Austin. Her death still weighs heavily on her brothers—especially Adam, who feels personally responsible. And it’s Marie who compels Adam to go in search of the killer who’s stalking their small town.

In telling the Austin brothers’ story, though, Koryta is really telling two (or even three) separate but intertwining stories. On one hand, The Prophet is a murder mystery—as well as the story of a guilt-stricken man who’s still trying to atone for decades-old mistakes. It’s here, in Adam’s story, that the novel has some of its most gripping moments, thanks to Koryta’s skillful characterization. Though the mystery isn’t entirely fleshed out—and the killer and his motives seem a little hazy—the main characters are memorable. Adam isn’t a clean-cut detective or a gleaming knight in shining armor; he’s a damaged (and somewhat disturbed) man who’s hit his breaking point. And while the choices he makes may not always be the best ones, readers will find themselves engrossed by his heartbreaking tale of guilt, remorse, and the quest for redemption.

At the same time, The Prophet also tells a strikingly dissimilar story about high school football. While the team’s big playoff push comes with its share of drama and suspense, Koryta tends to get bogged down in the details of the game. For readers who don’t happen to be football fans, it’s a perplexing addition—not to mention a major distraction from the mystery.

Tying it all together, meanwhile, is the moving story of two brothers who have been estranged for years—two very different but equally compelling characters whose tragic past, troubling present, and uncertain future finally bring them back together. And that’s the heart of the novel: the emotional journey on which Kent and Adam embark. So while it may not be as eerily haunting as some of Koryta’s recent novels—and the football drama sometimes gets in the way of the real story—the human drama of The Prophet still makes it a compelling read.

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