Avoiding the sophomore jinx, Amanda Kyle Williams’ Keye Street remains the most interesting, cynically funny and smart series detective today. Keye entered the arena in last year’s knockout debut, The Stranger You Seek: A Novel (reviewed here).
Stranger in the Room: A Novel finds her recovered from her, and her lover’s (Atlanta PD Detective Lieutenant Aaron Rauser), near-fatal battle with the serial murderer known as “the Wishbone Killer”. Keye and her employee, the perpetually red-eyed and high computer guru Neil, have settled back into the life and work of a private detective. Serving processes, arresting bail jumpers and keeping the local Krispy Kreme in business.
Life is good and if not quiet, it is at least a time for Keye to spend time navigating the mean streets of a romantic relationship with the obsessive and always on the job Rauser. They seem to pass in the night, him coming in at 3 a.m. fresh from a murder scene or a stake out, her wishing for more face time not to mention sack time, but as an ex-FBI psychological profiler understanding the pull of the job, she is content for now. Besides, Rauser has just come from the scene of a senseless murder of a young, gifted teenage athlete. Strangled and staged just steps from his home.
Then Keye’s cousin, the sometimes suicidal, ever-brilliant and sought-after celebrity photographer, Miki Ashton intrudes into Keye’s life, bringing baggage that challenges Keye’s efforts to remain sober and drives a wedge between her and Rauser. Miki seems the polar opposite of Keye. She is a practicing alcoholic, drug abuser and psychologically dizzy black sheep party gal.
When Miki returns home from a wild drunken night on the town and spots a masked stranger in her living room, she turns to Keye for protection. Keye and Miki have shared many childhood memories and remain as close as sisters, so Keye takes her in. After all, the police don’t take Miki’s report of an intruder serious as Miki has a habit of reporting stalking incidences that have little evidence and the fact that Miki is obviously drunk and or drugged up do not help with her credibility.
But Keye, out of familial obligation, gives her a bed and promises to check out ex-boyfriends, of which there are many, and to give Miki the space to calm down and maybe sober up.
Stranger In The Room” by Amanda Kyle Williams available August 21, 2012
Then Keye and Neil go out of town to investigate and gather evidence for an Atlanta attorney with a possible big money civil suit in the works. The suspected provider of the golden goose is a crematorium that has delivered the ashes of a loved one that turn out to be a mix of cement and chicken feed. It seems the perfect opportunity to escape the heat of Atlanta in July and the turmoil of Miki’s life, if only for a little while. Not to mention a little harmless fun checking out a darkly comic screw-up with a profit for a punch line.
As an added bonus, it’s also the perfect opportunity to avoid a family 4th of July celebration with Keye’s adopted mother and father. But when a second set of fake ashes are discovered, the case seems to turn into more than a civil suit and when Keye and Neil uncover a gruesome and illegal tissue harvesting operation, any thought of a light-hearted get away are dashed.
Then, Keye is called back to Atlanta when Miki, probably drunk, probably high and always self-absorbed and irresponsible, lets Keye’s cat out. Keye decides to deliver Miki back to her own home only to find a corpse hanging from a doorway.
Soon the similarities between the murder of the man hanging in Miki’s house and the teenager start to becomes clear. Could it be another serial killer? And he or she seems to be able to get uncomfortably close to Keye and her family while stalking Miki. This stranger seems to, at will and without being recognized, stalks Miki and leave tantalizing clues, but for what purpose?
As Keye, now called in as a consultant on the case, along with the taciturn Rauser, try to make sense of the bewildering case and find the common thread between the victims they will have to overcome the heat of a Georgia July and the turmoil of their own relationship, the media, there own doubts and most importantly the stranger who seems to be able to enter the room unnoticed as the next victim is cut from the pack right under the nose of Atlanta’s finest.
Williams seems to effortlessly be able to write engaging multi-threaded hardboiled mysteries and balance a deeply examined psychological plot with a light hearted banter and complex, very human characters. She has shaken up the perfect cocktail of police procedural, hardboiled detective story, noir-ish villains, and thoroughly modern and oh so original stories.
The tension buzzes like cicadas on a hot Georgia night and the pace is relentless. It all makes for thrilling explosive action to rival a 4th of July fireworks display.
Where the first novel had the added attraction of a sexual tension as Rauser and Street came together romantically, Stranger replaces that with Keye’s struggles against her addictions and the psychological scars that delving so deeply into the gruesome results of greed and obsession; of deranged killers, and the marks these leave on her psyche. This ability to shift the tension to another level shows a maturity in not just the authors writing ability but the ability to grow the depth of her character. Keye Street is no one trick pony and certainly no one hit wonder.
Williams was recognized as joining the front of the pack with Karin Slaughter and Patricia Cornwell in the ranks of female detective thriller writers. With Stranger in the Room she is ready to drop the gender qualification and run with the big boys to the the top of the best seller lists. Her sense of place will make you salivate for some downhome cooking and her dialog is some of the best in the craft.
A perfect balance of a hard exterior and a miles deep introspective personality mark Keye Street as one of the most well developed protagonists in the genre since Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch. There is simply not a single weakness in William’s writing. Not a one.