Written by Amanda Kyle Williams — Ever since Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books went off the rails there has been a major gap in the market for a kick-ass heroine with a smart mouth and big gun she’s not shy about using. Enter Keye Street – Atlanta-based FBI profiler turned private contractor, ex-alcoholic and Krispy Kreme enthusiast. Amanda Kyle Williams’ debut, The Stranger You Seek, launched Street with a bang. A fast-paced thriller which kept the suspense ratcheted high until the final pages, it was lauded by the critics and nominated for a prestigious Shamus Award. Street’s second outing, Stranger in the Room, continues in the same strong vein.
When Miki comes home to find a man in her house the police swiftly dismiss her concerns. Miki is a talented photographer and social butterfly. However, she’s also a recovering drug addict with a history of self-harm and a habit of reporting harassment which comes to nothing – just the kind of person the police feel they can ignore. So she goes to her cousin Keye for help, rekindling a previously close relationship which has drifted across the years. Keye gives her sanctuary in her swanky apartment and promises to look into the movements of Miki’s ex-lovers.
Keye’s life is pretty hectic already though, alongside her day-to-day bail jumper hunting she’s taken on a job for an old employer, investigating a rural crematory. A family have discovered that the ashes of their deceased aren’t ashes at all, but a mixture of cement and chicken feed. The crematorium claims an unfortunate accident and pay off the family; Keye isn’t convinced. She takes her stoner/hacker assistant Neil out to cow country for some reconnaissance. What starts out as a screwball adventure swiftly moves into gut-twisting territory.
Meanwhile a serial killer is on the loose in Atlanta. Troy Delgado was a boy with a glittering future ahead of him in baseball, until he was murdered close to his home, his body left in the open to be found. Keye’s cop boyfriend Rauser calls her in to consult, wanting the benefit of her FBI training, but before they can make much progress the killer strikes again and leaves the victim strung up in Miki’s house. As Rauser and Keye close in on their suspect he’s zeroing in on her family and, with the victims piling up, they realise Miki might just be their best chance to find him.
Keye Street is a sparky addition to the roll call of female PIs, flawed but fighting on, an intelligent, tenacious investigator who readers will find themselves rooting for. The surrounding cast are large but Kyle Williams has a flair for character and even the ones who only pop up for a few pages are distinct and memorable. At the core of this book you have a strong retinue which I feel will only improve with later instalments. They include the Street family, a warm, southern brood with artistic leanings; Keye’s spunky cop boyfriend Rauser who has more than a touch of the Clooney about him; and Neil, her assistant – stoner, hacker and all-purpose funny man. These feel like characters who will run and run.
Amanda Kyle Williams writes with engaging breeziness and but this is a book with a dark heart and elements of it are pure southern gothic – appalling, affecting stuff inspired by real life events, it’s some of the most grueling writing I’ve read this year. Stranger in the Room is a cracking novel, pacy, driven and tense as hell. Amanda Kyle Williams is definitely one to watch.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars