THE STRANGER YOU SEEK by Amanda Kyle Williams:
Opening line: "The sun had not even burned dew off the grass under the live oaks, but the air was thick and soupy already, air you could swim around in, and it was dead-summer hot." Welcome to Atlanta, home of disgraced FBI profiler-turned-bail recovery agent/private detective Keye Street, recovering alcoholic, Chinese-born daughter of white Southern parents, and all-around smartass. Longtime friend Lieutenant Rauser, under pressure to apprehend the sadistic, taunting Wishbone Killer, asks for Keye's help as a profiler. Inevitably, she is forced back into contact with a hated former colleague, the "official" profiler on the case. Besides the obvious need to pull Keye into an investigation to provide plot, her foray back into profiling offers psychological insight. When Keye was a profiler, she also became an alcoholic and destroyed her marriage, so her involvement brings up a delicious stew of emotional and psychological reactions.
Atlanta and the South are fully formed and alive in THE STRANGER YOU SEEK. The atmosphere, the people, the contradictions, and the neighborhood descriptions make for a rich setting. I marked several passages (in addition to the opening line) that capture Atlanta perfectly. As is obligatory in serial killer novels, passages from the psychotic killer's point-of-view are included. These are usually my least favorite part of a thriller (yes, yes, your mommy never loved you and you're a total nutjob...we get it already), but Williams chooses a fresh approach that worked well for me. The pacing is excellent -- this is a stay-up-all-night thriller -- and the twists and developments kept me guessing. Williams has surrounded Keye with a group of quirky friends, colleagues, and family members that play off her personality in different ways.
Plot, pacing, and prose are all excellent, but what makes THE STRANGER YOU SEEK stand out from the average thriller is personality, which Keye has in abundance. She's brilliant, funny, and deeply flawed, but she knows those flaws well. An exchange between Keye and Rauser:
"He thinks he's a goddamned analyst now because he's in therapy. And he's so righteous. It's painful."
"And what was Dr. Dan's diagnosis?"
"That I can't be serious. That I have intimacy issues."
Rauser chuckled. "How'd you take it?"
I sighed. "I told him, 'I got your issues right here,' and I grabbed my crotch and walked out."
And, just like that, I have a new favorite series heroine. Lucky for all of us, this is the first novel in a series, with the second and third out in 2012 and 2013.
Source disclosure: I received an ARC of this book courtesy of Random House through Shelf Awareness.