Written by Michael Koryta

Review written by Ali Karim

Ali Karim was a Board Member of Bouchercon [The World Crime & Mystery Convention] and co-chaired programming for Bouchercon Raleigh, North Carolina in 2015. He is Assistant Editor of Shots eZine, British correspondent for The Rap Sheet and writes and reviews for many US magazines & Ezines.

Hodder & Stoughton
RRP: £9.99
Released: 17th January 2013

Though well established in his native America, the award winning Michael Koryta is a relatively new name in the UK but one establishing large readership due to British critical acclaim for So Cold The River [2010], The Cypress House [2011] and last years The Ridge [2012]. As a former private investigator, it is little surprise that The Prophet features a PI / Bail-bondsmen that Kortya puts full centre in a tale of redemption and loss.

When Adam Austin and his younger brother Kent played American Football for their local team – the Cardinals of Chambers County in Northern Ohio, they were involved in a tragedy that shaped the course of their lives. Before the millennium, Kent asked his older brother to drive their sister Marie home, but Adam let her walk as he was on a promise to his girlfriend Chelsea. A decision that both brothers learn would cost their family dearly. Marie never made it home, and later she would be discovered, dead - the victim of a psychopath named Gideon Pearce.

The murder of Marie Austin would rock the local community, and tear the Austin family apart. With Gideon Pearce behind bars at the local prison, captured more by chance than judicious police work – the younger brother Kent buries himself into the world of American football as coach for the local town. In his free time he visits criminals behind bars, with his mentor and friend the pastor Dan Grissom – praying for the forgiveness of their sins and introducing them to religion. Older brother Adam is not amused by his little brother’s prison visitations, and becomes enraged when he learns that Kent with Grissom have visited [and prayed for forgiveness] for the soul of Gideon Pearce – their sisters murderer. Kent even doubts his own motivations when the evil Pearce laughs at him as he prays for the forgiveness of Pearce’s soul. The Austin brothers no longer speak to each other.

Fast forward over a decade, Coach Kent is happily married with two young children while Adam remains in the family home alone, after the passing of their grief-stricken parents. He keeps Marie’s room exactly as he remembers it, bringing her things down from the attic, preserving her memory. He shelters there at times of trouble, talking to her [in his mind], remembering her and continually asking her for forgiveness. Adam burns inside from the guilt of not taking her home on the fateful night that she was abducted by Gideon Pearce.

Adam Austin makes a living in post-Lehman Brothers America as a PI, hunting down “no-shows” for the boil bond during the day, while at night he sleeps with Chelsea Salinas, his childhood sweetheart, now married to a petty criminal. Salina’s husband is languishing in the local prison, the same one that Gideon Pearce was sent to for his sins. Though most of the locals know that Adam and Chelsea are “an item”, except her convict husband.

The small town idyll of Chambers is rocked again by the murder of another young woman, Rachel Bond and again Adam Austin is involved. It appears that Rachel used a pseudonym, hiring Adam as a PI to track down her estranged father. The trouble is that when Rachel meets is not her father, but a psychopath, one who kills her.

We learn that Rachel Bond’s boyfriend is one of Kent Austin’s key players in the current football season, but with the trauma following the murder of his sweet-heart, the team’s chances are seriously compromised. What chances have the Cardinals winning the season when their key player is in shock?

Thus begins this small-town tale of loss, the darkness in the hearts of the truly evil, redemption and avenging the past. Filled with red herrings, compassion, and a knowing eye that makes small town America so menacing, Koryta navigates the narrative like a master storyteller. It is disappointing that there were no supernatural undercurrents propelling the story like some of his previous work, though there is sufficient malevolence in the backdrop [and characters] to keep you haunted by the developments until the dénouement.

The characters and story will live long in the mind, as the compassion shown in the narrative keeps the chilling story bearable considering that at the centre is the death of two young women, which on balance could have been averted by Adam Austin, if only he could predict the outcome of his actions or inactions and see the future. The truth is that we all have to live with the past as it shapes our futures but sometimes the price we pay, maybe far more than one can bear in a lifetime.

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