Fresh Blood

Name: Amanda Kyle Williams

Title of Book: The Stranger You Seek

'... I just had to read this book in almost one sitting.'

In the sweltering heat of an Atlanta summer a killer is pushing the city to its breaking point, preying on the unsuspecting, writing taunting letters to the media, promising more death. Desperate to stop the Wishbone Killer before another victim meets a shattering end, A.P.D. lieutenant Aaron Rauser turns to the one person he knows can penetrate a deranged mind, ex–FBI profiler Keye Street.

Keye was a rising young star at the Bureau until addiction derailed her career and her life. Now sober and fighting to stay so, Keye picks up jobs where she can get them: catching adulterers, serving subpoenas, chasing down bailjumpers and dodging the occasional bullet. With multiple victims, little to go on and an entire police force looking for direction, the last thing Keye wants is to be pulled into the firestorm of Atlanta’s worst nightmare.

And then it suddenly becomes clear that the hunter has become the hunted - and the stranger she seeks is far closer than she ever dared imagine.

The Stranger You Seek is a debut novel that has been written so well it felt as though I was reading a book by a favourite author. The main character, Keye Street, had many familiar traits and was so well created I did not feel as though this was the first time I had been introduced to her. A complex character with many flaws, a recovering alcoholic being one of them, I was pleased that the author kept her on the wagon.

Street left the FBI due to her relationship with alcohol and now has her own private investigation business. She is helping out as a consultant with the local police force whilst also continuing her own private work, which tends to offer some humour and light relief to an otherwise quite heavy and gruesome storyline.

Street has a close circle of friends to help who are a variety of characters without any being over-the-top or unbelievable, and all playing an important role in both Street's personal and professional life. And her mother, well, she is just one of a kind!

Whilst not totally convinced by the motive revealed at the end of the book, this did not distract from my overall enjoyment and I just had to read this book in almost one sitting. I am pleased to see that the author is already working on her next Keye Street novel as I believe that she has created a great lead character. I feel this will become a series definitely not to be missed!

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) How would you classify your writing, and do you consciously try to write to a certain style or genre?
I seem to have a morbid fascination with murder so writing crime fiction was a good fit. Writing the main character in this series in the first person gave me some freedom to have a personal dialogue. Hopefully this makes the character and the writing accessible. As for style, hmm, I guess I would hope for just that; accessibility, relatability, something that feels authentic.
2) What type of crime novels do you like to read? Do you prefer series or standalone?
I love both but I’m always attracted to a series. I like watching the characters develop over time. I love it when you can tell from a piece of dialogue which character is speaking. Sometimes it’s so subtle; maybe just a certain rhythm the writer gives that character.
3) Keye Street is almost a contradiction - a success yet also a failure, a very complex, yet also a likeable character. Why did you make her so ‘damaged’ and, in particular, why has she turned to drink and ruined her career in the FBI?
That’s a good explanation of Keye. Thank you for that. Really, she’s not unlike most of us. Unless you count the 10 mm Glock and the potty mouth. But seriously, we are all contradictions. Functioning at work, struggling at home or the reverse. Hopes and dreams that are hidden, secrets and addictions, resentments and fears. And maybe we’re all a little damaged. I wanted Keye to deal with her issues in an irreverent way. She’s not a victim. She laughs at herself (and others). Of course she also uses humour as a way to avoid intimacy, which may be the only thing that really frightens her. Casual drinking turned into more than that because she’s an alcoholic. It’s in her genes. She’s in recovery now and sober for four years when The Stranger You Seek begins, but it still tugs at her. Old habits are tough to break. When you’ve used drugs or alcohol or food or whatever as a kind of salve during times of stress, it takes some doing not to go back there when the heat is on. That’s what she wakes to each day, just like addicts all over. Addiction is an equal opportunity employer. Keye’s a big believer in replacement therapy, though, so her answer to this on most days is the Krispy Kreme doughnut shop.
4) Will future books be based around Street and her circle of friends/associates? Will she continue to work on private cases or work alongside the police? How do you see her character developing?
Yes. I have a series planned with Keye. And I like the idea of her continuing to consult for law enforcement. Behavioural analysis is what she’s trained to do and keeping her involved in that reminds us that she was very good at her job and what she left behind. But I want to keep it real. You can’t live on consulting fees from a police department. So Keye has to continue serving subpoenas and bringing in bail jumpers, spying on unfaithful spouses, skip traces, background checks, all the little jobs a detective agency has to bring in to stay afloat. It always bugs me in fiction when a character seems to have unlimited resources. Okay, I know it’s fiction but there have been times in my life I’ve had to have two or three jobs to get by. I think about the car payment. I want my character to have to plan for these things too. Plus, Keye’s side jobs are an excuse for me to have a little fun and throw in a few laughs, step away from the darkness for a breather.
5) What was your reason for setting the book in Atlanta?
I live just outside the city. I know it well. I’ve lived for most of my life in the American South and I love it. To me, it’s just about the prettiest place in the world. As I’m chatting with you now I’m looking out of my office window at seven acres of pine trees and huge water oaks and ivy and blackberry vines covered with berries and confederate jasmine. It’s so green and teaming with life it almost makes me ache. It’s hot here too. The air has a tropical feel in the summer. It’s heavy and moist, but the sky is clear blue and everything is covered with foliage. I wanted to bring my passion for the region to these books. I also really loved the idea of writing a Chinese girl who’d been adopted by white Southern parents, who looks like Lucy Liu but sounds like Scarlett O’Hara. My brother adopted my niece Anna as an infant from China and brought her to his home in North Georgia. Anna inspired the Keye Street character. She’s ten years old now. And not all that impressed. Once she established there were not pictures in the books and the books were for adults, she really couldn’t have cared less.
6) Keye's mother is quite a character – is she based on anyone you know?
(Laughing.) Only just about every Southern woman I’ve ever known from that generation back, including my mother and grandmother – strong women who are proud, secretive, acutely aware of what the world thinks yet fiercely independent. Emily Street is one of my favourite characters and just as complicated as her adopted daughter, Keye. I brought a lot of my background to this character. For example, as children in my family, we knew better then to misbehave in public. We could play loud and be crazy kids at home. I had siblings so we also fought sometimes. But we marched like soldiers out in the world. You do not ever want to embarrass a Southern woman in public unless you’d also like a good old fashion ass-kicking when you get home. Southerners are polite too. Manners are something we learn early on. But Emily has a catty side. It’s almost irresistible for her not to go there sometimes. So when her lower self absolutely has to be unleashed, she masks it with a sugary tone and passive aggressive language. She might say something like “Glenda told me all about your erectile dysfunction, Jon. I discussed it with Howard, of course. We tell one another everything. We’re both praying for you”. The other really fun thing for me, about creating and writing Emily Street, is that she loves to cook. Since I became a full-time writer I’ve had to put myself on cooking restriction because I will spend all day in the kitchen. I’m passionate about it. I lose all track of time. And no words get on paper. So I use Emily Street as a vehicle for this. You’ll notice in my books I take the time to talk about what people are eating and especially what Emily’s cooking. I love to write about food. It’s utterly self-indulgent. I’m feeding my own obsessions. But it’s the only way I can write and cook.
7) To research this book you studied criminal profiling and took law enforcement courses. What was that like and how do you feel it improved The Stranger You Seek?
I took a couple of courses from a well-known criminal profiler here in the US, first in criminal profiling and later in homicide investigation. I was lucky to have discovered the courses and then later to have him available for questions, of which I have many and often. He’s a valued consultant now. I loved the courses. It was completely out of my norm, which is why I wanted to do it. Not to become a profiler, which would take years and years and a better education than I have, but to understand what criminal profiling really is, what a profiler does, how a profiler approaches a case. If I was going to write about someone who’d spent her life pursuing an education that would get her to the Behavioural Analysis Unit at the FBI, then I needed to have some understanding of her job. Just the basic courses I was able to take, given I had no background in law enforcement or behavioural sciences, were invaluable. The exercises we did, the study courses, the discussions. Regular research wouldn’t have been as effective for me. I’m a hands-on learner. I also have consultants from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Atlanta Police Department and from the world of forensic scientists. I was able to tour the labs and the autopsy suite at the GBI and that was great experience. They were doing five autopsies on five tables at once that day. When I write a character at the morgue now, I have some sense of what that looks and smells like. It makes it a lot easier to bring it to life for the reader.
8) The’ Serial Killer Thriller’ has been ‘done’ many times over – do you think that despite this there are still new ways to excite and surprise readers?
Absolutely. I mean, there’s a reason it has been done. It’s fascinating! And every story is as different as the unique twists that motivate a killer. We want to get inside them. It’s both terrifying and compelling. Writers take a lot of heat for creating serial offenders, but we’re just as fascinated as readers are by the psychopathy. How does someone look at a victim with those cold eyes, as an object, unmoved and with complete egocentricity? How does a person get pleasure from the pain of others? What does that look like? What does it sound like and smell like? What broke in this individual? We have, I believe, a natural and dark curiosity about the things we fear – violent crime, death, murder – and a need to make some sense of the pathology. We have a very active serial killer in this country right now nicknamed the Long Island Killer. There was a special on television last night and I was absolutely transfixed, just as most of the country is mesmerized by the subject. I want to say to readers, read those serial killer thrillers proudly. Pull them out of your satchels in public. We know they’re in there. It’s time to come back out of the serial murder closet. It’s totally cool again!
9) What is your favourite movie adaptation of a crime novel?
The Silence Of The Lambs, hands down. Anthony Hopkins being wheeled up to an aching mother – whose daughter was missing and possibly in the hands of a deeply disturbed, utterly egocentric killer – on a hand truck wearing that horrible mask. Terrifying. Plus, that character managed to remind us that people, even villains, aren’t all one thing. This guy was charming and even playful while being a total monster. Just great!
10) Without giving away the plot, which book included your favourite plot twist of all time?
Well I’m a fan of spy fiction too and of John la Carre. The old Cold War novel The Spy Who Came In From The Cold absolutely took my breath away. Brilliant. And speaking of The Silence of the Lambs, there was a great twist in that book that hiked up the tension like crazy near the end. Cornwell has thrown in her share of shockers too. Most of the big books have big twists.
11) What is your ultimate favourite read crime of all time?
Oh my. Really? You’re asking me choose just one? That’s so not fair! Not when Tess Gerritsen and Jonathan Kellerman, John Sanford and Ruth Rendell are producing consistently great work. Patricia Cornwell, Harlan Coben, Karin Slaughter, Robert Crais. I’m sorry. It’s impossible.