The Stranger You Seek by Amanda Kyle Williams

It’s a hot dry summer in Atlanta, and there’s a serial killer haunting the city. Chinese-American (and recovering alcoholic) private investigator Key Street is struggling to make ends meet with a range of cases1 sent her way by various local agencies, while struggling with the eternal desire to return to drink. Aaron Rauser, her close friend on the police force, pulls Street into the case on the theory that her background in the FBI2 will give her an investigative edge.

As the case drags on, with more murders claimed by “The Wishbone”3 and no plausible leads, the Atlanta police department calls in the FBI, and the head of the department insists that Street be removed from the case officially. Unofficially, from the police perspective, she remains involved in the case for a very frightening reason: the killer is targeting her. A loosened automobile wheel, two dozen roses delivered to her home4, and a predatory series of emails later, Street is frightened for her life. as it becomes increasingly obvious that not only is she being stalked, “Wishbone” is familiar with her every move in the way that only someone acquainted with her personally could be.

The fact that it took me a while to get into the book shouldn’t be construed as a criticism; tastes vary and I tend not to like dudelit or thrillers. Once I did get engaged, I finished it willingly. Racial and gender issues struck me as being handled awkwardly in the novel, however. At every other turn, the protagonist perceives women as lesbians interested in her while at the alternate turns, she oogles men. I can understand that the protagonist might not feel terribly Chinese, as she’d been adopted by a Caucasian family at age five; having never been through a similarly traumatic experience as she, I’m not sure how realistic it is to remember how her grandparents died while forgetting all her Chinese language, though I’ll take Williams’ word for it. The book felt like it was edging into hypertokenism with the second-adopted child, a gay African-American boy.

What to read next? If you like the (tough) female protagonist, try Patricia Cornwell’s Scarpetta series or Wallace Stroby’s Cold Shot to the Heart; Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series is somewhat similar but is more lighthearted than either of the aforementioned books/series. This book’s ending is constructed in such a way as to leave an opening for sequels, and indeed one is slated for publication this year.

And at the risk of spoilers: this is an interesting book for the underlying precept of “Never assume serial killers are men, even when they’re clearly preying on women and the crimes seem sexual in nature.”

1for which read largely serving subpoenas or collecting people who’ve jumped bail with the occasional leavening of odd cases, such as tracking down a cow
2awkwardly, she was asked to resign from the FBI because of her alcoholism, and hasn’t spoken to them since the separation
3so named for a comment the killer made describing the sound a victim’s neck made as it snapped
4one thing if its from a good friend…would you want roses from a serial killer stalking you? Me neither.

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