I have a very low threshold for “Oh, come on now.” That’s when the plot in a thriller is so over the top that it loses me. Meg Gardiner‘s that way for me – the plot ratchets up so relentlessly with every chapter that it goes past the believable into the formulaic. I even had the same problem with Linwood Barclay’s Never Look Away, where the protagonist’s wife goes missing at an amusement park and he’s super-frantic even though it turns out she’s not a victim. But Michael Koryta‘s The Prophet is a thriller that really delivers with no nagging “yeah, right” reaction. Maybe that’s because he’s a former newspaper reporter and private investigator.
Here’s the premise: Adam Austin and his brother Kent aren’t close. They had different reactions to the murder of their sister, Marie, over 20 years ago. Kent was able to put Marie’s murder behind him through the strength of his faith, and is now the beloved high school football coach. Austin’s stuck. He’s the local bail bondsman and occasional investigator, still lives in the family home, keeping Marie’s room just as it was the day she died. His guilt: he ditched his sister the night she was killed, driving right by her to go parking with his high school girlfriend.
Now, another teenage girl has been killed: Rachel Bond, the high school quarterback’s girlfriend. Once again, Adam’s at fault. He helped her locate an address, she went there alone and was killed there. But we soon find that it’s not Adam that’s being targeted, but his brother. The reason? His prison ministry. A psychopath thought it would be a fun challenge to make him lose his faith in God. The estranged brothers must work together to defeat this powerful antagonist.
Koryta’s book is a well-written and well-plotted page-turner. The story builds to a thrilling climax that’s 100% believable. That The Prophet also features real characters, not cardboard cutouts, who make mistakes, learn and grow over the course of the 400 pages, makes it a must-read.