One of the many great things about genre fiction is that there is no lack of something new from someone you’ve never read before. Amanda Kyle Williams is the someone, and her debut novel, THE STRANGER YOU SEEK, is the something. I predict that you will quickly enjoy becoming familiar with both.
"THE STRANGER YOU SEEK is an impressive novel, debut or otherwise, that will leave you wanting more from both character and author."
Williams has a colorful and varied resume that includes working as a freelance writer, a court-appointed process server and a surveillance operator for a private investigation firm. With a background like that, THE STRANGER YOU SEEK is almost guaranteed to be good, and she does not disappoint. Williams violates a rule of storytelling --- show, don’t tell --- by basically laying out Keye Street’s mini-biography within the first couple of pages. She does it so well, though, that the reader will not mind a bit.
Part of the reason for this is that Street has a unique pedigree and background. I won’t go into fine detail --- you can enjoy that experience for yourself when you read the book --- other than to note that Street was a practicing alcoholic who lost her position as an FBI agent as a result. After getting dry and staying that way, Street established a private investigation agency in Atlanta, taking jobs for which she is overqualified, not only to pay the bills but also to feed her adrenaline need. Both Street and her agency have acquired a top-flight reputation, so much so that she is often brought in by the Atlanta Police Department as a consultant.
It is not coincidental that Aaron Rauser, an Atlanta police department lieutenant, is described by Street as her best friend, though one gets the very subtle feeling early on that she wishes for a bit more. So it is that Rauser, in the early stages of the book, calls upon Street to apprehend a brilliant but horrific serial killer. As the story begins, the Wishbone Killer (Wishbone for short) has just acquired a fourth victim. Rauser has linked the murderer to three other killings --- another in Atlanta, and two in Florida --- by common elements at the murder scene. What is most confounding is that Wishbone leaves no clues; worse, the fiend’s victims cut across almost every conceivable demographic classification --- age, race, sex, and economic and education level --- so that there is no apparent commonality linking one to the other. Furthermore, Wishbone has started communicating directly with Rauser and posts to an edge fetish blog. These posts, by the way, contain some of the book's most chilling passages.
None of this is to say, however, that Williams left her sense of humor in a drawer somewhere. She imbues her protagonist with a sharp-edged and salty irreverence that is always lurking and occasionally revealing, yet never gets in the way of the story. That being said, Street is a trip, from the moment of her introduction to the last paragraph of this debut work.
I should note that I ruined my copy when I choked on coffee while reading Street’s unexpected response to the question of why she has difficulty getting over her ex-husband. It is the mystery, however, that really moves the novel along as the reader watching Street and her revolving cast of colorful associates work with Rauser in connecting the few-and-far-between dots that lead to Wishbone, even as the fiend continues to taunt Rauser and threatens to kill again and again.
THE STRANGER YOU SEEK is an impressive novel, debut or otherwise, that will leave you wanting more from both character and author. Williams is not above leaving a clue, or the absence of one, here or there throughout the book --- sharp readers will be able to eliminate at least some suspects early on --- but even those who can figure things out from the first page (you can’t) will love the journey. Street not only deals with the Wishbone murders, but also handles a number of mundane matters --- bond-jumpers, subpoena servings, and stolen goods retrieval --- along the way.
If you are one of the many fans of truTV (and let’s all stand up loud and proud) you will love Street and THE STRANGER YOU SEEK. And even if you are not, you will still love this book. Williams should quickly find herself added to the must-read list of mystery readers everywhere.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on September 20, 2011