Fast-paced, intense, engrossing … a wonderfully complex and flawed main character and a colorful and interesting supporting cast working through multiple plot lines that twist, turn and demand the reader put aside whatever else they had planned to read just one more chapter … and then another.
Stranger in the Room by Amanda Kyle Williams (@AKyleWilliams) is better than the first Keye Street book, which is hard to believe because The Stranger You Seek was exceptionally good. This time out, the story kicks off as Keye, a disgraced FBI profiler turned Private Investigator/consultant, is summoned to the side of her cousin, who discovered a man in her house coming home from a party. The cousin is a bit flaky, with a track record of drug and alcohol abuse, cutting and bad relationships, and Keye initially dismisses the incident. Big mistake.
I don’t do spoilers (which would be disastrous with these books as the plots are so wonderfully twisty), so let me just say like the first Keye book, this one starts off in high gear and never really slows down. There are many balls in the air, some of which may or may not intersect, as Keye goes about her business helping her cousin, running her PI business and helping the Atlanta Police Department hunt a brutal killer.
A third of the way through Stranger in the Room the major plot lines were laid out and I had no idea what was going to happen next, but I was totally locked in, engrossed, and could not wait to find out how/if/why/when any of it connected. I found the finale to be very satisfying on several levels, and honestly can’t wait for the next installment to see what happens to Keye, her techno-wizard co-worker Neil and Atlanta PD Lieutenant Rauser.
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Sitting down to review Stranger in the Room, I realized my reading of the first book of this series, The Stranger You Seek, came before I started writing reviews. But let me assure you, I recommend — highly recommend — both books to anyone looking for crime fiction/suspense thrillers with fast-paced and engaging storylines, and well-developed and interesting characters.
Both Stranger books feature the first-person view of Keye Street, a disgraced FBI profiler. Keye’s heritage is Chinese, but she has no idea who her parents were and was adopted by a white couple in Atlanta after her grandparents were brutally murdered in front of her. Raised to be a Southern woman (if you don’t know what that means, that’s something else this book will teach you) by a new mother whose love is tightly held, Keye is an alcoholic, which ruined a promising Bureau career, marriage and nearly led to her own demise.
In short, Keye is flawed. Really flawed.
Seeing the world from her perspective is both entertaining and enlightening. She’s quick to joke, but her struggle to remain sober, to forget the traumas of her past — some self-inflicted, others not — to come to terms with an upbringing that was an alien to her as the little Asian girl was to the neighbors of her adopted parents, make her a complex and wonderful protagonist.
In many ways, she reminds me of Lieutenant Harry Hole, the protagonist of Jo Nesbo’s great series of crime thrillers set in Norway. Harry is also a drunk, and has his work-related demons, and I will never not want to read the next book in the series.
Getting to follow Keye through her new life as a Private Investigator would be enough to recommend these books, but the fact is the stories are equal to the character: tense, twisty and unpredictable. Again, this is a feature in common with Nesbo: wonderful characters taking part in complex, dark and utterly fascinating stories.
Each Stranger book features multiple plot-lines, some red herrings and a lot of wonderfully crafted prose capturing the scenes. I did two U.S. Navy tours in Georgia, about an hour from Atlanta, and Ms. Williams just nails the ambiance. I was transported back to warm, humid nights, sudden and violent storms, and the wonderful and various smells and tastes of life in that part of the country.
Keye’s fledgling PI business includes corporate background checks, locating bail skips, serving papers and surveillance, but these alone are not enough to quell her desire to get back to work that matters: finding the worst of the worst criminals, the type of career she had and then lost at the FBI. So, she makes herself available to do some consulting work, and that’s where the major plotlines for both books come into play as the Atlanta Police Department need her particular skills.
The supporting cast, which includes Atlanta PD Lieutenant Aaron Rauser and her techno-wizard co-worker Neil Donovan, has evolved through both books, and that’s a trend that bodes very well for the future of this series. Keye herself has evolved as well, and gained some perspective, but through it all she has not lost the understanding that all of her gains could be lost in the blink of an eye.
For more on Keye Street and the Stranger series, visit Ms. Williams’ blog.
Post-script: Stranger in the Room is the first actual book I’ve read in a long, long time. I still love my Kindle and KindleFire, but I won an advance copy of the book from Ms. William’s publisher in a contest. One thing I noticed about going back to the “old” way of reading: Getting close to the end, seeing just a handful of pages left, I knew something BIG was going to happen because the book was just about over. 🙂