If you’re a fan of sea legends, like the Flying Dutchman, or puzzles from the past, like Dan Brown’s Da Vince Code, I invite you to read Michael Hurley’s The Prodigal, a novel that mixes the aura of such mysteries with parables and romantic suspense for a lively and absorbing read. Kirkus reviews calls it “Stirring, romantic, and evocative of the sea’s magic,” BookTrib writes that it is “a glorious, satisfying read the overnight lept onto this constant reader’s ‘Top 5 of 2013’ list,” and it is the winner of Chanticleer Review’s Grand Prize for fiction of 2013. It is a must read.
The novel opens on Ocracoke Island, 2010: “And so Aiden, the proud one, a man who refused above all else to learn from his own mistakes much less the errors of history, came at last to this island.” After a drunken weekend on the island followed by a disaster in the courtroom, star lawyer, Aiden Sharpe, finds himself exiled to Ocracoke to recreate his life among fellow prodigals: Father Marcus O’Reilly, exiled by a bishop exasperated by Marcus’s habit of speaking his mind; Sarah, a naked blond beauty, half real, half illusion, who is either a seer or insane; Bobbi Baker, a recovering alcoholic who runs the general store; Molly McGregor, red headed tow-boat captain who broke her wealthy father’s heart by choosing a solitary life on the island; Ibrahim, a Bahaman escaping wrongful conviction for murder. And finally, an ancient sloop whose history goes back to Biblical times. All are caught in the mystery of the boat and the possibility of racing it against Rowdy Ponteau, drunken son of wealth, who arrives regularly to bully the inhabitant of the isle.
Hurley tells this tale from the omniscient point-of-view, giving each character’s story full weight, and, with the elegant prose of the line above, weaves current time (2010) with past ages. It is, as his reviewers say, masterfully done. If I had any problem with the book, it is with the ending, which I found unnecessarily pat, but others will no doubt find it satisfying, and it doesn’t affect my very high opinion of the book.