The Prophet of Marathon is Bob Waldner’s second novel, and one that I could easily believe was ghostwritten for one of America’s most successful authors.
The story focuses on James Bennett, the black sheep of a well-to-do New York family. Having failed — at least in his father’s eyes — to make anything of his life, James heads south to the Florida Keys to make use of his grandfather’s holiday home to get a new bearing on his life.
My grandfather had spent his life making money, and here I was, looking out at the sea through his bedroom window and enjoying the fruits of his labors more completely than he’d ever taken time to.
James intends to get his head straight during his stay, but he ends up more confused and in a messier spot than he ever was. After finding casual work, he’s approached by an enigma of a man who sends his life into a frenzy.
He soon digs up information on John Wainwright, a preacher with a checkered history. As James learns more about Wainwright, we find out that his dubious dealings may not all be in the past. As James digs deeper and deeper, a new picture emerges of this enigmatic man, putting James’ actions in a new light and his conscience into overdrive.
Unsurprisingly, the cocktail of Wainwright’s inspirational message, charismatic leadership and good looks proved appealing to certain female members of his church, and they began to make themselves available to him.
After a slightly slow start, The Prophet of Marathon quickly picks up pace and James is an everyday hero that demands your attention. Where some authors may have been tempted to put him in some ridiculous and far-fetched scenarios, Waldner — for the most part — refrains from this. His thought process and actions are relatable, and he has more than enough flaws to engage our sympathy.
The story is cleverly built, with layers, twists and revelations creating a complex and enjoyable plot. Towards the end, I became worried about what might happen. I could see a clear fork approaching, with one path leading to a trouble-free ending, both safe and happy, that would have ultimately been a disappointment. Thankfully, Waldner chose the other path that made things a lot more exciting.
Although the writing was solid for the most part, and fluent in sections, every now and then it did stumble, and parts of the story appeared a little too unbelievable or a touch too unrealistic. Some of these were resolved later on, and may even have been necessary with hindsight, but the large question mark they created detracted slightly from the story.
Having said that, they didn’t distract me enough to make me want to put this book down. I’m sure that there are many self-published authors that take inspiration from John Grisham and his ilk, yet not many will match the quality Bob Waldner has achieved.