LITANY OF SECRETS
For personal or
Book group study
by Luke H. Davis
Permission granted for free non-commercial use
Prologue: “Tears From the Past”
1. A crumbling of faith comes early for young Cameron Ballack. Does his shift to skepticism seem abrupt? Reasonable? As you read through the novel, consider how this tragic moment is such a formative point in Ballack’s life.
Part One: “A Faith Defiled”
1. One thing that characterizes Rev. Zednik’s visit is a lack of trust. In a small community, how does trust and mistrust affect the activity of the members?
2. With which character in Part One do you identify with the most? Why do you say that?
3. Do the relationships at St. Basil’s seem to be genuine? Warm? Fake? Distant? What evidence would you use to make your claim?
4. In your mind, who has the greatest motive to commit the first murder?
5. What makes murder at a theological seminary such a shocking event?
Part Two: “A Hope Disfigured”
1. In what ways has Cameron Ballack changed since the prologue?
2. Ballack is a skeptic, yet his very curiosity causes him to learn deeply about religious traditions that he still rejects. Why do you think he does this?
3. Upon the arrival of Ballack and Tori, how does St. Basil’s Seminary appear to have changed?
4. Which character seems most believable when interrogated by Ballack? Why does it seem they can be trusted?
5. Father Jonathan confesses to his many flaws, yet he is a very polarizing figure at St. Basil’s for many reasons. If you were a member of the St. Basil’s community, how would you view Father Jonathan?
6. Dana Witten appears to be very kind-hearted on the surface, but it is evident she bears a weight of pain. Point out some specific evidence from the text and theorize what burdens you believe she is dealing with.
7. Note the location of the second murder. Why do you believe it takes place there?
Part Three: “A Love Destroyed”
1. Upon discovery of the second victim, Ballack simultaneously allows some Orthodox tradition to proceed while maintaining complete control of the investigation. What is so remarkable about this ability?
2. After Father Timothy reads the verse on the board, what do you think is the murderer’s motive?
3. Ballack tells Lieutenant Bosco that St. Basil’s “may be a Christian institution, but in my book, these places are often more institution than Christian.” What do you think he means by that?
4. Given Ballack’s role, why do you think Dana Witten confides so deeply in him?
5. One undercurrent of Litany of Secrets is both the power of first impressions and the fluidity of interpersonal estimations as time goes on. As the novel progresses, who do the detectives begin to see differently than they had and what events mark those changes?
6. The death of Ballack’s brother occurred eighteen years before, while his girlfriend took her own life just a few years prior to this case. Yet Ballack’s soul seems to be more affected by the continuing memory of his brother’s death. Why do you think this is?
7. While Ballack is relentless in his pursuit of the truth, he acts most quickly upon noticing some very chance occurrences, be it a single word or a stray piece of paper that triggers a memory. Why does he react so strongly to his spontaneous recall?
8. At the beginning of the novel, Father Matthias has been a vociferous defender of St. Basil’s. After the second murder, he has taken on a more nurturing role. What accounts for the change within him?
9. After the third murder, Ballack recognizes the centrality of the seminary motto in line with the deaths. Do you believe the murderer has committed these acts with the locations intentionally in mind or is the layout a matter of coincidence? Why do you believe that?
Part Four: “A Justice Delivered”
1. Despite his businesslike exterior, Ballack shows an occasional emotional side. Does this clash with your impression of his character or does it tend to complete it? For what reasons do you say that?
2. The change-of-information card turns out to be the pivotal piece of evidence that Ballack uses to identify the murderer. Yet it comes after a great deal of interrogation and investigation. What seems to be the relationship between hard work and spontaneous events?
3. Ballack inspires people to confide in him, yet in his phone conversation with Susan Sexton, he takes advantage of that trust. Is this wrong of him to do, or is it a legitimate use of leverage since he used it to solve the mystery? How would you defend your answer?
4. Left on his own to stop the murderer, Ballack has to marshal what few resources he has to attempt an arrest. What do you think drives him to act in such a seemingly impossible situation?
5. What do you think drives Ballack’s anger when he confronts the murderer?
6. At the lake, when he is sure all is lost, Ballack offers up a desperate prayer. Why do you think he does this?
7. Ballack poses a question about hypocrisy and faith to his parents in the hospital. What is your reaction to Martin and Marie’s answers?
8. Ballack’s more emotional and compassionate moments occur in the Grotto of St. Jonah and All Martyrs, including two interactions with Dana Witten. What do you believe is the significance of this location and why do you make that claim?
9. The novel ends at the same location where it began, at the gravesite of Ballack’s brother. Even though his beliefs are essentially the same, what about Ballack has changed since the beginning of the story?
Questions for Further Discussion
1. Litany of Secrets displays both the redemptive and destructive nature of love. How are both sides shown in the book? At what point does love that is soured move into the realm of evil?
2. For which murder victim do you feel the most sympathy? Why?
3. Do you feel any compassion or empathy for the murderer? Why?
4. Which moment in Litany of Secrets is the most memorable one for you? Why do you say that?
5. Which of the following is the strongest of the three in Litany of Secrets : Plot? Character? Or setting? Give reasons for your answer.