Detective Cameron Ballack of the St. Charles County police department in Missouri is assigned Special Investigative Division that serves the metropolitan St. Louis area. The division investigates major crimes, especially murders connected to religious organizations.
He was appointed to this team because of his crime-solving work at a Greek Orthodox seminary (detailed in Litany of Secrets). His first major case with the special unit, recounted in The Broken Cross, involved the Roman Catholic Church. Ballack is something unusual among policemen – he’s wheelchair-bound because of congenital health issues. He’s also an agnostic, which makes for interesting conversation with his minister father and Christian mother and sister, not to mention his teammates in the division.
First it was the Orthodox, and then the Catholics. Now it’s the Protestants’ turn, in A Shattered Peace by Luke H. Davis.
Ballack and his team are called to Dayspring Community Church, a large Protestant evangelical church in a well-heeled suburb of west St. Louis County. A counselor, the assistant director at the counseling center associated with the church, has been found dead in her office. It doesn’t take the medical examiner long to learn she’s been murdered, with crushed ribs and fatal internal injuries from being punched in her back.
Suspects abound. The counselor was at odds with both the center director and the senior pastor at the church, who were maneuvering to remove her. Some of her fellow counselors can’t provide solid alibis for the time of the murder. And then the detectives have to consider her clients and former clients, some of whom might have their own reasons for disliking the counselor.
The detectives’ personal issues keep intruding into the case. Ballack’s girlfriend seems to be pushing away from him. His partner, Tori Vaughn, has a family crisis. Another team member will recognize someone whom she thinks murdered her father. Ballack’s sister has been dating one of the counselors at the center. The personal issues swirl around the team, and Ballack has to work hard to keep the team, and himself, on track.
And then there’s a second murder.
|Luke H. Davis|
Davis teaches at Westminster Christian Academy in St. Louis, and is chair of the Bible Department there. He’s also taught at schools in Louisiana, Florida, and Virginia. He describes himself as “Presbyterian body, Lutheran heart, Anglican blood, Orthodox spirit,” all of which have served him well in writing the Cameron Ballack mysteries. He has published two previous Ballack mysteries, Litany of Secrets (2013) and The Broken Cross (2015), and the first book of a new series, Joel: The Merivalkan Chronicles Book 1 (2017).
As in his earlier mysteries, A Shattered Peace is more than a simple mystery story or police procedural. The reader gains insights into how a large Protestant church (one with a dominating senior pastor) actually functions. And the characters regularly discuss theological and faith issues, and how faith applies to life. Ballack, as an agnostic, provides a counterpoint to the more faith-enthusiastic characters.
And it wouldn’t be a Ballack mystery without a rather thrilling conclusion – and A Shattered Peace clearly has that. In all of these mysteries, Davis maintains a high level of pace, narrative development, and reader interest. This third installment in the Detective Cameron Ballack series is the best yet.
Top photograph by Nik MacMillan via Unsplash. Used with permission.