Michael Koryta's ninth novel, The Prophet, is a taut thriller about two estranged brothers who have never recovered from the murder of their teenage sister years before. Adam Austin is a bail bondsman. His brother, Kent, is a high school football coach in the same small Ohio town and finds solace for his grief in his prison ministry. When another girl is murdered, they both find themselves drawn into the case.
Koryta divides his time between St. Petersburg and his hometown of Bloomington, Ind. One of the inspirations for The Prophet has ties to both Florida and Indiana, Koryta revealed during an interview in a downtown St. Petersburg coffee house.
Where did the idea for The Prophet come from?
For a long time I had the idea of writing about two brothers coping with grief in really different ways. I knew that Adam's role was a mission of atonement for something he could never set right. But I wrote 120, 130 pages with the other brother as a minister, and it was a little too on the nose. So I put it on the shelf and wrote The Cypress House and The Ridge.
What brought you back to this story?
In both of my two homes, (former NFL coach) Tony Dungy had this incredible recognition not just for his football success but as a community leader and for his prison ministry. He went through the terrible loss of his son, and I think that ministry was a way of coping with his grief.
Also, I just thought to myself, what would a true sociopath think about a football coach coming to speak in a prison?
How did you research Kent's work as a coach, which plays a large role in the novel?
I followed Scott Bless, the high school coach at Bloomington North. I spent a full season, April to November, going to coaches' meetings, practices, on the sidelines during games.
I saw how hard it is for someone like that to balance the desire to win with the true desire to have an impact on their players off the field. Ninety-nine percent of (high school players) won't play college ball. Scott was whole-heartedly about character building.