I’ve had the pleasure of reading two excellent books recently, THE NEXT TIME YOU SEE ME by Holly Goddard Jones and THE PROPHET by Michael Koryta. Both are thriller/suspense novels, but each author offers a decidedly different, but equally rewarding take on the genre. Each novel is well-worth reading.
Jones’ novel centers on the mystery surrounding the disappearance of Ronnie Eastman, a somewhat wild and hard-drinking resident of a small town. What stands out in this story is not so much the mystery itself, but the way in which Jones illuminates the lives and foibles of the cast of characters surrounding the disappearance: Ronnie’s sister Susanna and her husband Dale; Tony, the detective charged with finding Ronnie, who shares a past with Susanna; Emily, Susanna’s thirteen-year-old student who struggles to fit in; and Wyatt, a lonely factory worker searching for human connection. What makes THE NEXT TIME YOU SEE ME so enjoyable is the way Jones interweaves these characters’ actions and personalities (all of which are flawed and all-too-human) into a narrative that almost transcends the disappearance at its heart. The best thing I can say about the book is that I would have enjoyed it as a character study even if the underlying plot was removed, which is saying quite a bit.
Koryta’s THE PROPHET is equally fascinating, even as it hones in on really only two characters: brothers Adam and Kent Austin, who have been damaged in different ways by the abduction and murder of their sister when they were teenagers. While Kent copes by moving forward, coaching the local football team and ministering to inmates, Adam is trapped by his own guilt, eking out a living as a bail bondsman while refusing to let go of the past. When another teenaged girl is lured to her murder, Adam swears to avenge her, only to find out that Kent is the killer’s real target. Set during high school football playoff season, THE PROPHET succeeds not only as a suspense novel, but as a study in guilt and family. The dynamic between the brothers is believable and tragic, and Kortya does not flinch from the necessary implications of his characters’ actions. I originally discovered Michael Koryta through his recent forays into supernatural horror, and I’m glad I followed him back to his roots in the non-supernatural thriller.
Neither THE NEXT TIME YOU SEE ME nor THE PROPHET will lift your spirits, but both will keep you reading until the end, no matter how bitter the end may be. Both writers show keen insight into human nature, elevating their work above the run-of-the-mill suspense novel. Both are highly recommended.