Fresh Meat: Don’t Talk to Strangers by Amanda Kyle Williams

Don't Talk to Strangers by Amanda Kyle Williams is the 3rd mystery featuring ex-FBI profiler, recovering alcoholic, and police consultant Keye Street (available July 1, 2014).

Uncovering the dark underpinnings of the quintessential perfect small town is something every mystery writer has to do at least once. And when Amanda Kyle Williams sends the heroine of Don’t Talk to Strangers, former FBI Profiler Keye Street, out of her comfort zone in downtown Atlanta into the sleepy little town of Whisper, Georgia, it’s in search of the worst kind of evil lurking beneath the small-town idyll.

A sexual sadist hiding in plain sight—someone who’s already tortured and killed two thirteen year olds and seems poised to do it again.

Keye Street isn’t your typical law enforcement consultant. Once at the top of her field as a profiler for the FBI, she lost everything a few years ago at the bottom of a bottle. Now she’s rebuilt her life, has a successful private investigation business and does consulting on the side, but she’s still an outsider at heart. At times by choice, but also by circumstance that often has her arriving on the scene after law enforcement has failed to solve a crime. And though she’s Georgia born and bred, her Chinese ancestry also keeps her a little outside—especially in close knit, homogenous Whisper.

When Sheriff Ken Meltzer, who is the one who brought her in to consult, comes upon her jogging through the town on her first morning there Keye points out her own visible difference from the others in the town.

“I thought that was you.”

“How could you tell? It’s not like I’m the only Asian in Whisper. Oh wait. I am the only Asian in Whisper.”

But it’s not just her looks that mark Keye as an outsider. It’s her presence in the sheriff’s office, butting in to what the other detectives see as their case.

Meltzer introduced me to his head of Criminal Investigations, Major Tina Brolin, and her detective, Robert Raymond, before he left. Everything had been going well until then.

A couple of file folders landed on the metal desk in front of me followed by a thumb drive. It skidded across the desktop. I caught it before it fell off the edge. “Just so you know, this wasn’t my idea,” Major Brolin told me.

“Oookay,” I said….”Can we talk after I have a little time with the files? I’d love to discuss the cases. With you both.”

“You’d love to discuss the case?” Brolin said. They exchanged an incredulous glance. “This is our case. We live here. We care about the people here. You don’t know anything about this community.”

“Exactly,” I said. Brolin and Raymond stared at me for three seconds before I was looking at their backs. They disappeared into a back office.”

….I realized for the first time just how unpopular the sheriff’s decision to hire outside help had been.

But it’s not just Keye who’s an outsider in Whisper. Despite having lived in Whisper for their whole short lives, both of the victims were outsiders in their way. Keye learns this about the first victim, Tracy, in a conversation with the girl’s mother:

“Was Tracy close to anyone outside the family? Was there an adult she confided in, a counselor, an older friend, maybe? Did anyone give her rides home from school? Anything like that?”

Josey shook her bleached-blond head. “Like I said, Jeffrey and Tracy rode the bus together every day. Tracy was tight-lipped about our business. I think she worried she and Jeff would be taken away if people knew what was going on here…”

In addition to Tracy’s fears about being taken from her parents’ home by the authorities, she and her brother were also isolated by their father, who according to Josey, her mother, “didn’t give the children a lot of freedom.”

But if the first victim was an outsider by dint of her home life, the second victim, Melinda, was an outsider in a much more literal fashion. In an interview with the girl’s friends Keye learns how.

Heather pointed ahead. About a hundred feet down, I saw brick-columned entrances on either side of the road, each with a subdivision name. “Melinda lived in the neighborhood there. It’s not as nice as where we live in Lakeshore Estates.”

Shannon jumped in. “But it’s not like our parents are rich or anything. Our neighborhood is just newer.”

“Newer, better, and we have the lake on our side. But whatev,” Heather snarked.

“According to your statements, Melinda turned off toward her neighborhood before you went into yours.” I looked up the street to confirm Melinda’s turn would have come before theirs. It did.

And it’s just that little difference—the physical separation of her neighborhood from that of her friends’—that makes it possible for the killer to cull her from the pack.

But even as the victims are vulnerable because of their differences, the killer is able to blend in because he’s so very much an insider. He can slip through the streets of Whisper without garnering a backward glance—even in the midst of the very public hunt for a murderer in their midst.

Nothing is more accustomed to the ordinary, more tuned to the predictable footfalls of its regulars, than a main street in small-town America. We notice the extraordinary—orange running shoes, blue hair, tats, a stranger hovering, dark sunglasses, a car creeping behind a bicycle. Main Street was on alert today. Whisper was full of posters and dark speculation, and still I hadn’t found one person who’d noticed someone slipping a card under the florist’s door.

In the end, of course, it’s Keye, the outsider from Atlanta, who is able to see the killer for what he really is. In mysteries as in real life, it often takes an outsider to see past the forest to the one tree that isn’t like the others.

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Manda Collins has been reading mysteries since her first Nancy Drew at the age of six. An academic librarian by day, by night, she writes historical romance blended with mystery. Her sixth novel, Why Lords Lose Their Hearts, will be release in July, 2014. To learn more, check out her webpage or follow her on Twitter @MandaCollins.

Read all posts by Manda Collins on Criminal Element.

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