In Michael Koryta’s ‘An Honest Man,’ dark seas rise

The latest thriller from the former St. Pete resident is a chilling tale of murder, corruption and child trafficking.
Michael Koryta's latest thriller is "An Honest Man."
Michael Koryta's latest thriller is "An Honest Man." [ JONATHAN MEHRING | Jonathan Mehring ]
Published Aug. 17|Updated Aug. 17

When Israel Pike spots a huge yacht drifting offshore of his Maine island home, he rows his skiff out, climbs aboard and finds seven dead men.

When Lyman Rankin walks into an abandoned house where he’s taken refuge in the past, he finds one live woman, holding a hatchet.

For Israel and Lyman, these discoveries will blow up their lives. How they’re connected is the frame on which Michael Koryta builds his high-speed new thriller, “An Honest Man.”

This is the 19th novel from Koryta, a former St. Petersburg resident and longtime faculty member of Eckerd College’s Writers in Paradise conference. He now lives in Indiana, where he grew up, and Maine, which serves as the setting for “An Honest Man.” It’s a setting shared with his recent novels “Where They Wait” (a high-tech horror story written under the pen name Scott Carson) and “Never Far Away.

Koryta has always been a ferociously talented thriller writer, and “An Honest Man” is one of his best, stripped down to the essentials of narrative and powered by well-crafted suspense and complex characters.

The book’s two protagonists, who appear at first in alternate chapters, are Israel and Lyman. Israel has returned to Salvation Point Island, where his family has lived for generations, after serving a prison term for killing his father, Charlie Pike.

Israel doesn’t deny it; he can’t, given that there were numerous witnesses to the fit of rage in which he flung a lobster trap, a blow that killed the older man. Israel already had a damaged reputation in the island’s small community — he had moved to the mainland for a while and struggled with addiction — and his relationship with his father had always been fraught. But there’s more to the death than the headlines report.

When he gets early release from prison, Israel isn’t exactly welcomed back with open arms. His relationship with his uncle, Sterling Pike, is openly hostile. Sterling “had been the lone sheriff’s deputy assigned to Salvation Point Island for more than twenty years,” and he wields that position like a small-scale dictator.

When Israel discovers the bodies on the yacht, Sterling seems to see it as an opportunity to implicate his nephew rather than investigate the crime. Once the dead are identified, the murders become national news — two of the men were rival candidates for a U.S. Senate seat.

Israel is frightened, as a reasonable man would be. But, although he prides himself on being an honest man, he does have secrets, and one of them, involving a state police major crimes investigator named Jenn Salazar, keeps him in Salvation Point, trying to find out what really happened on the yacht.

Lyman is 12 years old. He and his father, Corey Rankin, are the only inhabitants of a nearby island called Little Herring Ledge. Lyman’s mother disappeared years ago, and Lyman takes the brunt of his father’s drunken, brutal abuse.

Salvation Point and the surrounding area have been sliding downhill economically since the declaration of what residents call the Lost Zone, a thousand-square-mile area of the North Atlantic that was closed to lobster fishing years before. There are four houses on Little Herring Ledge, three of them abandoned — which is useful for a boy who sometimes has to flee a beating.

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Lyman has even fixed up one of the houses, preserving its decrepit look outside but making it comfortable for himself inside. It’s that house he enters around the same time as the discovery on the yacht, only to be met by a young woman wearing a swimsuit, a hatchet in her hand and her feet cruelly bloodied.

“When she said, ‘Make a sound and I will kill you,’ Lyman Rankin believed her.”

But she’s weak and injured, and also pretty, and Lyman stays to help her. She won’t tell him her name, so he calls her Hatchet. She won’t tell him how she came to the island either, but it’s clear even to a kid that something bad has happened to her — that bad things have happened to her for a long time.

As Israel is bounced among his uncle, the cop Salazar and a mysterious man with a private jet called J.R. Caruso, trying to figure out who, if anyone, he can trust, Lyman dodges his father and tries to keep both Hatchet and himself out of danger.

Their stories will collide in a chilling tale of corruption, wealth and child trafficking that creeps ever closer to their own lives. If you’re looking for a thriller you can’t put down, dive into “An Honest Man.”

An Honest Man

By Michael Koryta

Mulholland Books, 384 pages, $29