Jeri k Tory Conklin

Connecting the dots

Have you ever read a book, thought you had all the relationships and crime scene figured out only to come to the end of the story and find out you missed something because of the surprise ending? Did you go back and reread the story again to see where you missed the important fact that made the all-important connection?


I have had several people mention that they missed the connections of my character John Adam Buck in my book When Spirits Speak: Stiltbird’s last Supper (2022). Johnny’s story starts with his execution (Prologue). Characters in the room of importance – Thaddeus, husband of Maven and father to his two daughters, all three of which were killed.

Johnny’s story starts as a young child being raised by his grandparents. His mother, whom he never knew and had only seen a photo of, dropped him off with his grandparents and never returned.

    In White Beans and Ham Hocks … a drifter/stranger comes to the home and is offered a supper. Johnny is curious about the kind of life he leads. Johnny is very young at this time. Later that night, after the drifter leaves, he doubles back and starts a fire in the corn field that burns down the house and kills Johnny’s grandparents. Johnny carves a facial profile of the stranger and carries it with him as he journeys across the country to the ocean.

      Years later, Johnny leaves his town and travels to the ocean his grandpappy talked so much about, wanting to see the stiltbirds that lived at the seashore. While there, Johnny sees the drifter/stranger that had been at the farm that night, starting the fire that killed Johnny’s grandparents. First, he sees him with a young child, then sitting with his wife who calls him “Thaddeus.” Johnny follows them home and watches the house. Johnny reasons that Thaddeus took his grandparents from him and that he, Johnny, would return the favor by taking his family from him.


When Johnny gets inside the house and kills (or so he believes he killed the wife and two daughters), he sees the same photograph his grandparents had of his mother. He realizes then that he has killed his own mother and what must be his two sisters. He is leaving the carved head of the “stranger” for Thaddeus to see when the police arrive and arrest him.

    He is a Black man who killed a white family, he was therefore guilty and sentenced to be executed. The reporter who had followed Johnny’s story got access to court documents and in reading the coroner’s report discovered that Maven and the two daughters had each been shot and their deaths as a result of the gunshot wounds. None of that information was released at the trial. They had their murderer – Johnny. Johnny had used a knife to what he thought was kill them.

    Johnny never heard Thaddeus shout, “He’s innocent. I killed my wife and daughters. I killed them, not my son.” The medical doctor had continued to push the lethal drug into his system, even after being told to stop. The real murderer that night was the medical doctor, not Johnny.

    When the book was nearly finished, I reconnected with Johnny. He was finally able to understand that he wasn’t a “bad man” and all questions but one had been answered. The last question wasn’t even one Johnny had thought of nor asked – why would Thaddeus want to kill his own son?