When I was at the university studying literature, I took a lot of classes on the writing of minority groups. The question often came up: what makes this book representative of the group? In other words, if a Native American writes a Harlequin romance with an all white cast, is that truly a Native American novel? Should the term “African literature” include the children of African expatriates who have never lived on the continent? Etcetera. I had a similar question as I sat down to write my review of The Stranger You Seek by Amanda Kyle Williams.
I had been scheduled to speak at the Left Coast Lesbian Conference and thought it would be collegiate to read a book by each of the other featured authors at the conference. Williams is a New York Times bestseller and the headlining guest speaker, so I started with her. I assumed that her affiliation with the conference meant she fell somewhere on the LBGT spectrum, and she may. I suppose, at the end of the day, it’s none of my business.
The book, The Stranger You Seek, is excellent. Williams did not get onto the New York Times bestseller list for nothing. However, since I am reviewing for the Lesbrary, I must recommend it with the caveat that it does not contain central lesbian characters.
Anyway, on to the book…
The Stranger You Seek is the first in what promises to be a very successful series. At the opening we meet Keye Street, one of the most interesting and unique detective protagonists you will find. She is Asian, adopted by white parents in the South. She is a recovering alcoholic who works as a private detective, bail recovery agent, and warrant server. She is tormented by memories of her grandparents’ murder and her failed career in the FBI. She is rough, imperfect, loveable, and (best of all, in my opinion) deeply southern without being the least bit clichéd.
She is drawn into the story when her friend Rauser, an Atlanta homicide detective, asks her to consult on the case of a serial killer known as the Wishbone Killer. The killer has been taunting the police and terrifying the city with murders that seem to have no unifying feature to aid in the killer’s discovery or to protect potential targets. As Keye and Rauser work together, the killer’s attention focuses on Keye. Nonetheless, she is passionate about the case and pursues the killer doggedly, often working in the gray area outside proper police procedure. She is a brave, tough female protagonist whose flaws only make her more interesting and more believable.
Williams has an eye for location that is just magical. The Stranger You Seek is set in Atlanta. Whether it is a gritty side street or a bustling urban center, Williams describes the setting with an attention to detail that, I imagine, can only be born out of a genuine love for the city.
One of the other things that I enjoyed about The Stranger You Seek was that Williams manages to convey the true tragedy of murder while still telling a story that is, at times, laugh out loud funny. It works because the protagonist’s first person narration is so well done. Keye is deeply troubled by the cases that come before, but she also has a great wit.
In short, if you are looking for a novel with a lesbian lead, this isn’t the book for you. However, if you are happy with a strong female protagonist and really good writing, this is a great selection.
Review by Karelia Stetz-Waters
Editor note: Williams has also written a lesbian series, the Madison McGuire series.