New Release Sneak Peak THE PHOTOGRAPHER

We are thrilled to give you a first look at Mary Dixie Carter’s debut novel, THE PHOTOGRAPHER!  This is a slyly observed, suspenseful story of envy and obsession, told in the mesmerizing, irresistible voice of a character who will make you doubt that seeing is ever believing.

Check out this early excerpt, and we can’t wait to bring this exciting book to you next year!

Chapter One

I caught a glimpse of Amelia Straub through the front entry glass. Then the door swung open, and I stepped inside.

“Delta, darling!” Her large brown eyes landed on me with commitment. “I’m so grateful you made it here in this”—she gestured dramatically in the direction of the storm outside—“this tempest.”

We’d only just met, but the warmth in her voice was that of a close friend. She assumed the best about me. If she had a test, I’d passed it.

Behind her, a floating sculptural staircase, seemingly lit from above, with glass balustrades and bronze railings, ascended dramatically from the stair hall. A wide passage extended the length of the house so that even from the front door, I could see a sparkling kitchen in the back, and three sets of floor-to-ceiling glass-and-steel bifold doors that opened up to a deck and backyard. I’d found before-and-after pictures of the house online—a Greek Revival brownstone in Boerum Hill, with an understated façade and an interior that Amelia and her husband, Fritz, had designed and transformed. But the photos hardly did it justice. Casting my eyes about the house was like viewing a series of paintings, one more striking than the next. In and of itself, the staircase was a work of art, and seen in the context of the home as a whole, it surpassed itself.

Amelia hung my coat in a pristine hall closet next to a sleek purple down Moncler. (I knew the price of that coat: over two thousand.) Her long, slender arms danced gracefully around her body while she told me, in the most effusive terms, how much she admired my work.

She led me to the rear of the house, where a group of well-dressed tween girls sat at a long farmhouse table, in front of more than a dozen plastic containers of beads and chains. I recognized eleven-year-old Natalie Straub in that group because she vaguely resembled her mother. The planes of her face, skin tone, posture, hair texture and quality. These are the things that I notice. When photographing anyone who has a weakness in one of these areas, I compensate with lighting and angles. Natalie did not have a weakness, per se, but neither did she have a particular strength. She was a tall girl who held her arms tightly to her sides, as if she didn’t feel comfortable taking up too much space. In an otherwise bland appearance, I was relieved to see that she had sharp gray eyes. Try photographing a moron. It’s next to impossible. What I’m always looking for is the sparkle in the eyes. The curiosity. If the subject of my photograph is not thinking or doing anything, the photograph comes out blank.

A small girl on Natalie’s right repeatedly swung her red hair over her shoulder, one way and then the other. I overheard bits of the girls’ conversation, mostly having to do with their recent Thanksgiving break. “Montauk,” one girl said. “Insane traffic.”

Natalie had an oval face, fair, almost translucent skin, and nondescript dirty-blond hair. I could predict that her mother would take her to a colorist when she turned thirteen, or maybe even sooner. Most of the mothers I met touted their daughters’ academic success, sports, music, art, what have you. They didn’t think it seemly to brag on their daughters’ looks. Not to say that it didn’t matter to them. They were hardwired to want pretty daughters. They really couldn’t help it.

I’d been working as a family photographer for almost a decade. I’d started off assisting on weddings, but my talent and skill in capturing children was impossible to ignore. People want me to photograph their children because in one photograph, I’m able to give them the life they want to believe they already have. In most cases, they don’t and they won’t. But my photographs tell them the story they long for.

In the kitchen, white gleaming marble countertops and a white backsplash contrasted with the dark wood accents on the cabinetry and a suspended glass cabinet hung from the high ceiling. A handsome man, whom I presumed to be Fritz Straub, opened the fridge and took out two beers. He offered the second beer to a younger man with dark hair, perhaps a junior colleague, based on their body language.

I pulled my camera out and shot a few photos of Fritz. In order to take good photos of anyone, I need to believe in that person’s beauty. If I can’t see it, then the camera won’t see it. And no one else will be able to see it either. My subjects are always beautiful in my eyes. If they don’t start out that way, I force my brain into contortions in order to see it that way. In Fritz’s case, I didn’t have to talk myself into believing he was handsome. He had sandy hair, a strong jaw, and green eyes so intense that they blazed through his glasses.

At one moment, he appeared to be sharing some sensitive information. He lowered his voice and turned his body away from the room. He looked over his shoulder, repeatedly, to make sure no one was within earshot. I probably could have stood close enough to hear the conversation. For many people, I’m invisible, the same way a servant is. I’m performing a function, and they don’t take in the degree to which I see and hear what they say and do. That inconspicuousness usually benefits me. Years ago I felt slighted in these instances, but over time I’ve grown to appreciate them.

Several minutes later, when Fritz became aware of my presence, I turned and walked from the dramatically high-ceilinged great room, which extended the width of the house in back, through the media room and entered the library at the front of the house, where Amelia was seated in front of a roaring fire, holding court amid a group of four girls. She shone down on them like the sun. In my experience, eleven-year-old children are rarely drawn to the adults in the room. They are usually drawn to each other. But Amelia had such a powerful presence that the standard rules didn’t apply to her. It was practically impossible not to pay attention to her performance, partly because she seemed to expect that everyone would.

“Ingrid, we’re so proud of you,” Amelia spoke in a lilting voice. “Natalie told us about your tennis championship.”

Ingrid’s face colored and she giggled.

Amelia placed her fingers lightly on the child’s face and brushed the hair away from her eyes. “The semifinals? What an accomplishment.”

Objectively speaking, I was more attractive than Amelia was. I had larger breasts, a smaller waist, and fewer lines in my face. I was certainly younger, by ten years at least. Amelia had chiseled cheekbones and deep-set eyes. Overall, her features were a little sharp, but striking nonetheless, and she had remarkable magnetism—the kind of person to whom men and women alike gravitate.

A wall of bookshelves at one end of the library stood in contrast to the pristine furniture, glistening glass everywhere—a room that didn’t suggest the presence of a child. Natalie appeared to have self-control and restraint beyond her years, so I gathered that she didn’t pose a threat to the breakable objects in the room, nor did they pose a threat to her, at least not now. Perhaps she had learned the hard way.

I wouldn’t have been able to blend into the crowd so well if it weren’t for my affluent high school boyfriend, son of an Orlando lawyer, whom I’d dated for three years. I had the luxury of time in which to study his parents, his sister, and him, individually and collectively. Even at fifteen, it was obvious to me that you need to immerse yourself in the lifestyle if you want to fit in, if you want people to believe that you belong to their world. It’s a matter of osmosis. It turned out my boyfriend was a prick. He pulled a knife on me once. When I explained the nuances of the situation to his parents, they got me a full ride to the University of West Florida. It was the least they could do. If they wanted gratitude, they should have gotten me into Yale.

My talent as a photographer is multidimensional. I’m a documentarian when called upon to be