Photographs are virtually ubiquitous in all of our lives; we want to document those special moments – even sometimes the mundane ones – so that we can look back on them and reminisce. However, unless it is a selfie or a photograph we have taken ourselves, one rarely thinks about the person behind the camera lens. Mary Dixie Carter has written The Photographer to show us what a huge – and potentially deadly – mistake that lack of acknowledgement could potentially be.
Delta Dawn (yes, she was named for the Tanya Tucker song) makes a living by photographing the special events of others. Her specialty is children’s birthday parties, where she seems to have an uncanny knack for capturing the most random candid shot that completely expresses the emotions of the moment. As The Photographer opens, Delta is working for Amelia and Fritz Straub, hired to document their daughter Natalie’s eleventh birthday. While roaming their gorgeous home, Delta cannot help but marvel at the sophisticated and privileged life this family leads. It is a life she would do just about anything to obtain for herself.
Fortunately for Delta – and for Delta only – Amelia feels a kinship with this talented artist. After inviting Delta to babysit at the last minute, the two women begin a friendship that eventually exposes their most heartfelt struggles. The more Amelia begins to rely on Delta, the clearer it becomes that there may be an agenda at play here that far exceeds sharing chardonnay after a busy day.
Mary Dixie Carter is laser-focused on the narrative about Delta and the Straub family. She keeps this book streamlined and addictive by doing away with almost anything that does not deal directly with this main plot. The lack of multiple subplots will surprise some readers, but as they read the reason becomes all to clear. This is an author who wants to immerse her reader in Delta Dawn’s obsessive mind so completely that even as we watch her do horrible things, it is impossible to look away. The Photographer only succeeds if the reader connects with Delta Dawn, however, that connection can take many forms – curiosity, empathy, abhorrence, sympathy, fear, fascination, or possibly even for some, admiration (now that is a scary thought!) Whatever that bond is for each reader, that is what carries this narrative along to its shocking conclusion.
In crime fiction, the unstable and obsessive character is often a male stalker of some sort. By simply switching the gender, Mary Dixie Carter is able breath new energy into a trope that could easily have seemed dated and rehashed. But rest assured, that while Delta Dawn has many traits we have seen in other characters in the crime fiction canon, Mary Dixie Carter has somehow made her feel fresh, unusual, and utterly dangerous. Every page turn is like another detour around crazy town.
Mary Dixie Carter’s The Photographer is a fast read that consumes the mind of the reader until the final page is turned. The truly scary realization is that after witnessing this snapshot into the mind of an obsessive narcissist, the reader may never look at a simple photograph the same way again.
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No promotion was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.