New mystery novel set in Dayton

“Satan’s Choir” by Tom Harley Campbell (Cayuga Lake Books, 253 pages, $17.95)

Tom Harley Campbell has launched a new series of mystery novels that features John Burke, the fictional supervisor of the homicide/assault squad of the Dayton Police Department. Campbell knows Dayton well, he grew up here.

The cover of this first book in the series, “Satan’s Choir,” gives us a stark image of the mystery we are about to explore. The cover art by Gregory M. Dearth depicts a scuba diver underwater, shining a flashlight into the interior of a submerged car; there’s a skeleton reclining on the seat.

As the book opens a salvage team is diving into Eastwood Lake in Riverside. They are trying to recover a 1957 Chevy Bel Air coupe that was resting on the lake bottom 80 feet below. When the diver locates the vehicle he discovers that it wasn’t the only car slumbering down there. The other car contained our skeletal occupant.

The police get notified about this macabre find and Detective Burke authorizes the divers to bring up the second car while they are at it. The other car isn’t quite as old but it has been down there for a long time. Now Burke and his team must dive into the police procedural aspects as they attempt to identify this lost soul.

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It isn’t easy to determine the origins of the automobile or the name of the person who has been submerged at the wheel for decades. Burke gets quite a shock when they figure out who that person was. Burke knew him. Burke had been an adolescent boy when that man and his new car had vanished overnight.

The skeletal remains reveal evidence of potential foul play and as Burke investigates this icy cold case, he is obliged to revisit his own past. He reconnects with men he knew back at his parochial grade school. He recalls that the place where they found that ghost car was once the forbidden swimming hole of their youth, an abandoned gravel pit.

Campbell gives John Burke traits we find often in fictional detectives. His personal life is complicated. Some years ago he and his wife decided they would get along better if they lived apart. Burke is a dogged investigator, but he’s keeping some information to himself. He is getting ready to retire. Even his son Kevin, his heir apparent to run the squad, is being kept in the dark about some details of this haunting case.

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Burke is an old school investigator who relies more upon wearing out his own shoe leather than employing sophisticated modern techniques. Even so, he finds that Google can be really useful. He sets up online alert notifications to harvest information about sexual abuse scandals within the Catholic Church and he is appalled by what it produces.

If there’s one thread that binds “Satan’s Choir” together thematically it is this: The Catholic Church has systematically attempted to suppress and conceal the scope of the abuse within its ranks. There’s brimstone and there’s fire in “Satan’s Choir.”

Vick Mickunas of Yellow Springs interviews authors every Saturday at 7 a.m. and on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. on WYSO-FM (91.3). For more information, visit Contact him

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