Funds are missing from St. Basil’s Orthodox Seminary near Defiance, Missouri. The seminary is undertaking an investigation but moving too slow for the diocese in Kansas City. An administrative priest is sent to speed the investigation, and is there only one night when he dies of an apparent heart attack.
Two weeks later, the bishop asks the county police to investigate whether the heart attack might have been something else. The two detectives assigned are Tori Vaughan and Cameron Ballack. And Ballack may well one of the most unusual detectives I’ve encountered in mystery fiction. He’s young, with a photographic memory and a mind like a steel trap. He’s also disabled, confined to a wheel chair because of an inherited gene that is usually fatal long before your 20s. His younger brother died from it.
And in addition to never quite accepting the death of his brother and his own disability, Ballack is struggling with faith, as in, he doesn’t have any but he knows there’s something more.
Ballack and Vaughan set up shop at the seminary, and things begin to happen. What looks placid on the surface is roiling underneath. And more violence is ahead.
Litany of Secrets is Luke Davis’s first novel, and a totally engrossing one it is. It’s one of those books you carve out time for and keep reading in spare moments, because you have to find out what happens next.
Davis has done his homework. The reader learns a lot about the Orthodox faith and its various offices and services. The geography is almost exactly true to life – Defiance, Missouri, in St. Charles County is just west of St. Louis County, and Highway 95, the road to wine country, and the Katy Trail (bicycling!) run right through Defiance. (The only difference is that there is no seminary in Defiance, but there probably should be.)
And he tells a fine story. Cameron Ballack is true to life, and Davis has fully researched his disability, life in a wheelchair, and how technology has helped people in Ballack’s position. But the research is kept restrained in the novel; it doesn’t overwhelm the read. Davis has done it well and done it right. And Ballack’s struggle with faith helps humanize the character, rounding him out so well that it’s easy to forget you’re reading about a detective in a wheel chair.
Davis, who lives in St. Charles County, teaches at Westminster Christian Academy in St. Louis (my youngest son graduated from Westminster). He describes himself as “Presbyterian body, Lutheran heart, Anglican blood, and Orthodox spirit.” (As someone raised Lutheran, now Presbyterian, and who writes about an Anglican priest, I think I understand Cameron Ballack’s struggle with faith.)
Litany of Secrets is well told, well done, and a great story. And I’m hoping the next Cameron Ballack mystery won’t be too long in coming.
Photograph by Larisa Koshkina via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.