Article published on August 25, 2011.
The Stranger You Seek is the opening salvo in a new series from freelance writer Amanda Kyle Williams. Set in Atlanta, Georgia, it introduces us to a spunky new heroine, former FBI criminal profiler Keye Street.
Street tears up several of the clichés of the genre. She is Chinese-American and physically non-imposing (coming in at 5’4), and has, unlike so many other mavericks, actually managed to get herself fired from her job at the FBI. When we meet her, she has built up a small business working as a bail agent and process server. Accordingly, Williams has broken new ground, creating something of a freelancer procedural, combining the lone-wolfishness of the PI genre with the procedural accuracy of police works. When not staking out suspects, bouncing around theories or struggling to keep her abstinence from alcohol in check, she serves warrants, chases down bail jumpers and investigates missing persons cases.
Williams wastes no time in establishing Street’s traits, opening with character examination in preference to plot. Street lives a life of charmingly befuddled chaos, besieged by matchmaking parents and harassed by bail jumpers, forced to medicate the madness of her existence with fine pastries and confectionery. She is a strong character, written with enough skill to allow Williams to let the plot meander a little without losing the reader’s interest.
The plot centres on a serial killer known as Wishbone. Wishbone is an arrogant and brutal killer who, when not plying a gruesome trade, taunts law enforcement, and later Street specifically, with a series of letters pouring scorn on their abilities. Street is brought in by the Atlanta Police Department to create a profile of Wishbone and assist with the investigation. Here Williams again breaks with tradition, setting Street up as largely peripheral to the investigation. This approach is as refreshing as it is authentic. That authenticity extends to the rest of The Stranger You Seek, and indeed it is no surprise to read that Williams studied criminal profiling and homicide investigation in order to underpin her writing.
Williams writes predominantly in the first person, allowing us inside the mind of Keye Street, and taking the opportunity for humour that it provides. Street is as amusing as she is tough, and as a result the tone of book has a honest charm to it. However, this is also part of a tactical move by Williams; for all the amiability of the first three quarters of the text, she shifts gears with tremendous force for the finale.
Just as Williams throws the reader off the scent of a powerful denouement, she gives a masterclass in misdirection. She throws in a vast number of clues as to the identity of the killer, but ensures when the reveal arrives, it is entirely unexpected.
Overall, The Stranger You Seek is a seriously promising debut from an abundantly talented writer. It is as authentic as the best crime fiction should be, and, which is more, brings something genuinely new to the genre’s table.