Michael Koryta's The Prophet

We review The Prophet, the new crime novel by Michael Koryta.

Longtime readers of the Carolina March half of this blog know that I periodically get sent sports-related books to review. How relevant they are to UNC sports varies as a function of how eager the publisher is to sell the book, and I pass on more than I accept. Occasionally I have some free time and take a flyer on the stranger titles though, like the one on basketball in the Philippines that turned out to be surprisingly good. And that's how I ended up with The Prophet.

The Prophet is a standard crime thriller, a genre in which I really only read Donald Westlake and Greg Rucka. And as a thriller goes, it wasn't a bad read, just unmemorable. Presumably, the reason it ended up on my desk is the high school football angle; the heroes are a pair of brothers, both former stars on the high school gridiron. The younger is basically Coach Taylor from Friday Night Lights, moral and forthright, with a team of small-town heroes vying for their first state championship. The older brother is a tortured anti-hero bail bondsman, estranged from his family and quick to anger.

The pair are haunted by their sisters' death years earlier, the victim of a psychotic killer. So when the girlfriend of the star receiver suffers the same fate at the hands of a different psychotic killer, there is drama and emotion and plot. I'm not being glib about the psychotic killers either; they're given no motivation for their actions. They are monsters of the type specific to crime thrillers and television procedurals, and they exist solely to move the plot along. There are probably more serial killers in a year of novels than have existed in the history of the United States, and it's just so boring to read about ones so one-dimensional as these.

So peril and hard-bolied two-fisted action aside, how was the football? Pretty good, as far as I can tell. Author Michael Koryta spent a season doing research with a high school team in Ohio, and the descriptions of games read well on the page. There's some insight into the way the game is played that's really enjoyable if you don't live and breathe football — and I don't. My interest was better held by the question of whether the plucky team would win the playoffs than whether the criminals driving the plot would be brought to justice. And the coda, when the murdering has been left behind for the football, is rather sweet. But I'll be honest, I forgot most of the plot within minutes of putting the book down. It's disposable weekend reading, and I supposed it served its purpose in that I never through the thing across the room in disgust. If you're fond of this genre, I think this is an average example of it that won't waste your time. Me, I'm sticking with the Westlake, thank you.

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