This story first appeared in the Information Point newsletter Our World in 2013 when Luke H Davis told us about publishing his first novel Litany of Secrets. A teacher at Westminster Christian Academy in St. Louis, he is married to Christy and is father to Joshua, Lindsay and Jordan who passed away in 2008.
Luke knows much about myotubular myopathy, Jordan was diagnosed with the condition and Joshua is affected also and in Litany of Secrets, Luke has drawn on his own experience to write a mystery novel that brings an MTM-afflicted hero to its readers.
Set in rural eastern Missouri the novel centres around St Basil’s Seminary, an idyllic center of reflection and study until a sudden, suspicious death of a visiting priest shakes the community to the core. Detective Cameron Ballack is called to investigate the matter. Facing hardship and tragedy of his own, and confined to a wheelchair, Ballack finds that the seemingly devoted members of St. Basil’s have skeletons in their own closets. When one murder follows another, Ballack must redouble his efforts to cut through the clouds of past sins before death strikes once more, this time with Ballack in its sights.
The Information Point recently spoke with Luke about Litany of Secrets, the inspiration behind his work and Detective Cameron Ballack.
What did you hope to achieve by writing about someone with MTM?
Part of my motivation comes from wanting to push the issue more into the public view. The more that people are aware of MTM and CNM, it’s my hope that we can slowly build a larger army of compassion that will react positively to the efforts of parents who care for their MTM/CNM children, those who live with MTM/CNM and to the researchers and doctors who pursue a cure.
That’s not to say writing the first novel (or subsequent novels) was easy. Part of that is the nature of the beast. It’s hard to write an arrest scene, and I had to build different strengths into my MTM detective that would compensate for the reality that he couldn’t fire a gun or slap handcuffs on a criminal. So I had to emphasize his prodigy nature, his photographic memory, and his steel-trap mind. But that went hand-in-glove with my overarching goal: to show that MTM/CNM people are truly handi-capable, not primarily handicapped.
I did get resistance from one publisher. She told me she didn’t believe the whole wheelchair detective angle, and she jokingly asked if he was going to chase murderers pushing himself at two miles an hour. I glared at her and asked if she’d ever heard of a power wheelchair and if she knew what their top speeds were. Needless to say, I didn’t go with that publisher, but it was sad that people have those prejudices. When I met with Dunrobin Publishing and Mark Sutherland, he bought into the whole plot-character-setting triangle and believed this was a story that had to be shared with the world. And now we’re doing just that.
Why set the book in Missouri?
I went to graduate school in St. Louis from 1993-1996, and our family moved here in 2008, so out of all the places I’ve lived, eastern Missouri was likely the setting I could work with most in a story. St. Louis fascinates me. It is a city still trying to finalize its identity; it is a cluster of smaller neighborhoods and truly is “the smallest large city in the States”; it faces some stock problems of most metropolitan areas; when two strangers meet here, the first question is “Where did you go to high school?” and we have a bourgeoning immigrant and refugee population that adds to the area’s diversity.
And why a Seminary?
Some of it had to do with the fact that–while Detective Cameron Ballack is a religious skeptic–he has a knack of getting called out to cases that take place in a church or religious context. I also liked the idea of exploring how, in the perceived safe haven of a spiritual institution, great and shocking evil can still erupt in a manner diametrically opposed to the vision and spirit of such locations. I will plead guilty to being inspired somewhat with what P.D. James did with the fictional St. Anselm’s College in Death in Holy Orders, but that also coincided with the fact that a real-life murder did happen at my alma mater here in St. Louis at Covenant Theological Seminary. By the way, I wasn’t a student at the time, and the murder itself remains unsolved.
Who or what inspired you to write?
When Joshua had spinal fusion surgery in 2007, I took a bunch of P.D. James novels to the hospital to read in my spare time. That got some juices flowing, but the desire to write expanded after our youngest, Jordan, died in November 2008. I found that I wrote a lot in a way of coping with his death. A year later, I wrote my first book–what I call a “relatiography”–a recollection of 200 events from when Christy and I first met all the way to the present. It went to some 300 pages, I had it bound professionally and gave it to Christy for our anniversary. Then–still dealing with memories of Jordan–I wrote my poetry book about his life, Through a Child’s Eyes. After I finished that, I was getting jittery again and needed to write something else. And it came about one day when I was getting ready for work, I had an impulsive idea and said, “You know what? I’m going to write a murder mystery. A whole series of them. And the detective will have myotubular myopathy.” And the rest is history.
Have you always enjoyed writing?
I’ve enjoyed writing for various reasons. I’ve always felt I can express myself better on the page than in verbal conversation. It has always fit with what I believe is an increasing introverted demeanor of mine. When I was fourteen years old, I was struggling at some points with writing. One time in class, my teacher read two essays from students, one for commendation and one for critique. I had done a poor job on mine, and Mrs Harbaugh had selected mine for critique. After she finished, she said, “Now that is one student I know can do much better.” Her written comments on my essay reinforced that statement. I recall being so mad at myself that I swore then and there that no matter what vocation I had, I would be a great writer and that essay would be the last piece of subpar garbage I ever wrote. So I give Mrs Harbaugh full credit for motivating me to write with excellence.
What was the first thing you remember writing and how old were you?
I think in fourth grade when I was nine, I wrote a story about a king who loved massive chunks of cheddar cheese. For the life of me, I don’t recall how the story turned out but I know I was hungry through much of its composition.
What authors do you admire?
Obviously, P.D. James is at the top of the list. How she balances plot, character, and setting is a juggling act that she’s refined over years of practice, and I’ve loved the depth of how she’s drawn Adam Dalgliesh. You can’t go wrong with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, either. C.S. Lewis is another favorite, both for fiction (The Chronicles of Narnia) and nonfiction (Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, A Grief Observed). My dad is a great model for utilizing humor in nonfiction. Philip Yancey has helped me explore the areas of faith and spirituality where things might not make sense. For less intensive fiction, I have read a lot of M.C. Beaton’s work and enjoy her Hamish Macbeth mysteries. And a new admiration is James Runcie and his Grantchester Mysteries series. Obviously, I’m very heavy on British writers.
Do you have a favorite book/series of books?
Anything by P.D. James that stars Adam Dalgliesh. If I ever aim for a doctorate degree, that’s my area of study.
Can you tell us your plans for Cameron Ballack?
I have finished four novels already and am two-thirds of the way through the fifth. The ultimate goal is for the series to be eight books in length. His relationships will ebb and flow to a degree. There is advancement in the cards for him, but he will always be both keenly aware of his limitations and equally desirous that he be in a situation where he can investigate crime rather than oversee the detectives. He will be hard-nosed and gritty, but his determination can be tempered by a sensitive side fiercely loyal to his colleagues. There will be some realistic parallel with the real-life push for a cure. To be perfectly honest, while Ballack’s goal in each novel is to solve the crime, the larger arc of the series is the mystery within Ballack himself.
In my view, this is a series (of which Litany of Secrets is the first volume) which keeps people turning pages and discovering the colorful spirit and deep humanity of MTM and CNM individuals, and it is wrapped in great stories in memorable locales.
Luke H Davis is also the author of ‘Through a Child’s Eyes‘ a book of 26 poems and one short story told from his son Jordan’s perspective about the events in his life from his birth to when he died and beyond.