by Jeff LaFerney
REVIEWED BY: Books4Tomorrow
After a tragic train wreck, Depot co-owner, Adrian Payne disappears. Seven years later, Clay Thomas meets Payne's beautiful wife and determines to help her by using his mind powers to solve the mystery of Payne's disappearance. With the help of Clay's son, Tanner, the local chief of police, and Adrian Payne's ghost, Clay discovers the body, catapulting the investigators into a mystery-a mystery with more questions than answers. If there was foul play, why do the coroner and Adrian's ghost disagree? If there wasn't foul play, why do all the suspects appear to be guilty? A twisted plot, full of surprises and interesting characters is the result. Lessons of faith, friendship, personal growth, and peace give meaning to a one-of-a-kind mystery.
When I read the dedication in the front of the book, something I usually don’t do, I just about got tears in my eyes and instinctively knew that as a reader, I’m in good hands with this author.
“Skeleton Key” is unlike any suspense murder-mystery I’ve ever read before. Apart from the intriguing plot, the many questions, multiple suspects and accusations that keep the reader guessing, as well as the surprise ending, there were two elements – among many - that really stood out for me, and which I feel makes this an exceptional read.
First, the father and son relationship between Clay and Tanner is amazing. Not only do both of them have parapsychological powers, but they also have a close bond which surpasses most others. Throughout the book they both discover new abilities and I admired the way in which Clay teaches Tanner how not to misuse his powers, while at the same time instilling sound principles and values in him, by doing so.
Secondly - and this took me by complete surprise - there is a subtle, spiritual undertone to this story. I found this delightfully refreshing and at times re-read certain pages as the life-truths Clay were reminded of by Erica, also served as a reminder to me how easily we forget what to value in our lives. This, and a few more lessons in faith, were skillfully interwoven into the story.
We are all left with different impressions from the same books we read, so with that said, I would like to share an excerpt taken from a nerve-wracking chapter in which Erica took Clay spelunking and he had to find his way in the dark as part of a lesson in faith. These words, in the context of the story, had a profound impact on me and I re-read it a couple of times.
“When you’re not walking by faith, you stumble along on your hands and knees in fear of what you can’t see. What kind of way is that to live? I don’t think your problem is that you have a gift, Clay. I think you’re a person who is lacking faith.”
This is the author’s second novel in which he continues the story of Clay and Tanner Thomas from his debut novel “Loving the Rain”, but it can easily be enjoyed as a stand-alone. Enough is said in this book to make you curious about what happens in the first, but without making you feel that you are missing out on important details necessary to understand Clay and Tanner’s history and relationship.
More to the point, “Skeleton Key” will get you thinking, it will make you laugh and cry, and it will make you stay up way after bedtime to read what happens next. It had all the elements necessary to keep me engrossed from start to finish. The good guys are likeable and the bad guys....well, they’re really bad. The romance is sweet and sincere, and overall I found it to be a gripping read. Next on my list is “Bulletproof” by this same author, who evidently puts a lot of thought and imagination into his work. A highly recommended 4 stars and two thumbs up for “Skeleton Key”!
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MEET author JEFF LAFERNEY
Jeff LaFerney has been a language arts teacher and coach for more than twenty years. He earned his English and teaching degrees from the University of Michigan-Flint and his master's degree in educational leadership from Eastern Michigan University. He and Jennifer, his wife of twenty-five years, live in Davison, Michigan. Torey and Teryn are their two children. Skeleton Key is his second novel. His first, Loving the Rain, is also available, and his third, Bulletproof, will be available in April of 2012. When he sets a goal, he achieves it; when he has a friendship, he cherishes it; and when he imagines, he writes about it. He loves competing at sports, connecting to good books, and creating words that make people laugh.
INTERVIEW with JEFF LAFERNEY
Q: What inspired you to write “Skeleton Key”?
A: I’d finished “Loving the Rain” and was considering a romance that began on a train (no, not that kind of romance—I just wanted my character to meet a girl). There is a railroad town near my home, so I started researching it and found a great story about a circus train wreck and several references to the haunted depot. The more I learned, the clearer the plot of my mystery became to me.
The response to the first book was pretty positive too. What could be more inspiring to write another book than that?
Q: How did you come up with the title?
A: A skeleton key is used to open up the “attic” (a storage room) in the train depot where a ghost resides. It’s also a play on words because an actual skeleton has a part in the story. Plus, Anthony Horowitz has a book called “Skeleton Key”, and I tell the students I teach that his is the second best “Skeleton Key” book ever written.
Q: Which of your characters in “Skeleton Key” are your favourite and why?
A: Clay and Tanner Thomas both have parapsychological abilities, but I especially like how Tanner adapts to them. He’s an athlete, and he reminds me of Johnny Storm on the Fantastic Four—he loves having his “powers.” I also love Jasper, my angry midget (little person) because he adds humor to the story.
Q: What was the hardest part of writing it?
A: It was my first mystery, so putting together the clues was a challenge, but I think figuring out how the victim died was my biggest dilemma. Imagine telling an interesting story and being determined to keep everyone from figuring out the solution until the bitter end…and not having an end.
Q: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in “Skeleton Key”?
A: Possibly I might give more attention to the romance between Clay and Erika (there I go again with the romance). But honestly, every time I read something I’ve written, I find ways to improve it, so if I went over it again, it might end up unrecognizable.
Q: What were the challenges involved in bringing it to life?
A: For this book, I learned about town history, trains, business, law, forensics, and many, many other things. It’s always a challenge to write about things I know very little about before I start, but the forensics and legal parts were the most challenging. I’d already learned about the brain and the psychology/parapsychology in the first book, so it was much easier the second time around. Now that I’m thinking about it…getting those “sources” to call or write me back was pretty darned challenging, at times.
Q: Which of your two books, “Loving the Rain” or “Skeleton Key” was the hardest to write?
A: The first draft of “Loving the Rain” was much easier and took much less time, but because I planned “Skeleton Key” better, it was in much better shape when I started the revision process. At times, revising “Loving the Rain” was a nightmare, so it ended up being harder to write.
Q: Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?
A: I started researching the town on the internet, but I actually visited the site of the setting and talked with people there. They took me to the haunted locales and told me the stories. I made a contact who told me everything I needed to know about trains, and then I used an attorney and the county medical examiner to answer most of my other most difficult questions. The humorous ideas were the most fun to write…I’m only humorous when I write.
Q: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
A: I have to give props to three authors from my publishing company: Mary Ting, Ashley Fontainne, and Joann Buchanon. There is also a new friend from my hometown, Stacey Rourke, and a couple of new authors I’m reading, Laura Vosika and Jeff Lee.
Q: If you were to do your career as an author again, what would you do differently, and why?
A: I believe that all things happen for a reason, in their own time, so my writing career started for me just at the right time. I wouldn’t trade in my experiences. I’ve learned things, met terrific people, and I’m enjoying the whole experience.
Q: What are your current projects? Can you share a little of your next book with us?
A: My third book has reached the editing and cover design phase. It’s another Clay and Tanner Thomas book called “Bulletproof”. My protagonists solve two crimes in a small town, using their parapsychological abilities. The story includes mystery, ghosts, humor, suspense, and a touch of sports and romance.
Q: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
A: I don’t know why this is for me, but plotting out time seems to be a constant struggle. I’m a stickler for detail, and I want everything to work out in realistic and appropriate timelines, and often I discover I have to redo things to make it work, and I work hard at making it work. Maybe if I do a time-travel book, I can jump all over. I just had an idea.
Q: Do you read reviews of your books? If so, do you pay any attention to them, or let them influence your writing?
A: I guess I pay attention a little. I notice when I get a new one, and I read it, but I’ve yet to have one influence my writing. I do pay attention to the readers who read my books before I submit them to my publisher, and I value their input a lot.
Q: List five “good-to-know” facts about you.
A: 1. My favorite foods are filet mignon, crab legs, and Pringles Multi-Grain Cheesy Cheddar potato chips washed down with Mountain Dew in a can (I had to choose at least one thing I could afford).
2. I’ve seen pro baseball games in Detroit, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Chicago, Tampa Bay, Phoenix, Anahaim, Los Angeles, St. Louis, and Toronto (and my wife wonders how I choose our vacation destinations).
3. In each of my books, I sneak in a couple of characters with names close to names of my friends, at least one of my favorite authors, mention of a small rodent-like animal, and a grammar lesson concerning one or more of my pet peeves.
4. In all of my years driving, I’ve only had one traffic ticket (more than twenty years ago in a different state). I never paid the ticket, so I may be a wanted criminal.
5. I start almost every morning out with a granola bar and a big glass of milk, which proves I’m a creature of habit, I’m remarkably boring, or I’m really, really lazy.
Q: If you could have anyone from history over for dinner, who would it be?
A: I’m tempted to say Jesus, but I already know I’m going to meet Him someday, so I’m going to drop way down the morality totem pole and pick Ty Cobb, former star baseball player of the Detroit Tigers. Weird choice, I know, but I used to read about him all the time, and being from Michigan, he’s an icon for baseball fans. As history has progressed, it seems that everyone believes him to be a real creep, but I want to know what he says…what he was really like…what the stories would be from his point of view. I may have just thought of another book…this interview has been really productive.
Q: Do you have any advice for other writers?
A: Well, maybe because I think I’m decent at the soon-to-be-mentioned topics, I find that dialogue and timing in other books bothers me when it isn’t done well. As far as time, keep track of it—keep notes and refer to them. Be sure timing is realistic and believable and the readers are aware of it so they don’t get confused. Dialogue should be realistic too. People don’t always speak in formal language and in complete sentences. And different characters speak differently. Book characters should speak like real people….Oh, and writing sentence fragments is kinda fun.