CrimeReads: 10 New Books Coming Out This Week ‹ CrimeReads

CrimeReads: 10 New Books Coming Out This Week ‹ CrimeReads. https://crimereads.com/10-new-books-coming-out-this-week-february-21-2022/

The Photographer

Seduced by the lifestyle of the family she’s photographing, celebrity photographer Delta Dawn immediately sets about immersing herself into their life, volunteering to babysit. She soon has access to the house—drinking their wine, bathing in their tub, becoming good friends with Amelia and sending out seductive vibes to Fritz.

If Delta Dawn, an elite New York society photographer, doesn’t see beauty she creates it as well as her own version of reality. A whiz with photo editing tools, she can create the scenes she wants to convey.  A scowling child. No problem, she can turn that into an adoring smile. A cold and aloof family. There are ways to manipulate the bodies in the pictures she takes to bring them closer together, soften their stiffness, and turn them into a lovely and loving family to be envied.

Mary Dixie Carter by Beowulf Sheehan

          But that envy overtakes Dawn in The Photographer, Mary Dixie Carter’s mystery-thriller when she is hired to do a photo shoot of successful architects Amelia and Fritz Straub and their 11-year-old daughter, Natalie. A catty observer, Dawn quickly sums up situations—and others—quickly. Amelia, she  quickly notes when they first meet, despite being striking with a magnetic personality isn’t  as pretty as she is.  Her breasts aren’t as large, nor is her waist as small, and she’s at least ten years older. Dawn immediately prices Amelia’s Montcler coat as costing more than $2000. Then there’s Amelia’s handsome husband with his amazing green eyes. And let’s not forget their wonderful house.

          Seduced by what she sees, Dawn immediately sets about immersing herself into their life, volunteering to babysit. She soon has access to the house—drinking their wine, bathing in their tub, becoming good friends with Amelia and sending out seductive vibes to Fritz.

          “Several years back, I hired a photographer to take pictures of my two children,” Carter wrote in answer to questions I emailed to her. “The pictures came back, and they were beautiful, but my children’s eyes in the photos were cobalt blue, not their actual color. ‘I want my children’s eyes to be their real color,’ I said. She responded: ‘There is no real color.’ That sentence stuck with me. I started to think about the psychology behind that idea: There’s no real color, there’s no real anything. Delta Dawn doesn’t feel restricted to the reality of the situation. She alters an image to make it what she needs it to be.”

          This is the first book for Carter, who graduated from Harvard with honors and previously worked as an actress.  Though she says she’s not a good photographer, she took classes in both photography and photo editing while writing the book.

          “I learned enough so that I understand some of the basic concepts,” she says. “I did a good deal of research on photo editing and the various ways in which one can alter pictures of people.”

          When it came to her characters, Carter let them evolve as she wrote including Dawn.

          “I didn’t want her to edit herself,” she says. I wanted her to go as far as possible.”

Good Neighbors

There goes the neighborhood.

Set in a town on Long Island not unlike the one where she grew up. Sarah Langan’s  Good Neighbors, an Amazon Best of February Pick, is formatted like a sociological study exploring a crime that happened in the past.

“My roots are in horror and I thought about making this a slasher book,” says Langan, who projects normalcy despite having written award winning horror novels.  “But that seemed too simplistic for a book about our culture and themes like mob mentality.”

Photo credit David Zaugh.

But the foreboding of horror books is prevalent here as we watch the neighbors on Maple Street turn on the Wildes, the newest family on the block.

It all begins with the falling out between two moms—beautiful, compliant and overwhelmed Gertie Wilde, an abused child grown into a beauty queen who is married to a once-almost famous rock and roller named Arlo. Their two kids have issues too. Julia’s vocabulary is profane but even more oddly, their son seems to believe he’s a robot. That’s quite a contrast with Rhea, an ultra-successful academic who seems to have the perfect everything—job, husband, and family that seems typical of all the families in the neighborhood.

The Wildes want to fit in but if there’s an unwritten rule book about how to act and what to say, they don’t have a copy and their differences set them apart from everyone else. But beyond that, climate change is wreaking havoc adding its own sinister atmosphere to Maple Street when a huge toxic sinkhole opens up in the neighborhood’s  green space. But this is no ordinary gap in the ground.  Instead it’s an ever growing  malevolent force taking over the neighborhood. Evil, it first sucks up a family dog and then Rhea’s daughter who gets too close.

“Most horror writers are gentle people who are outraged at how people are treated and what is going on in the world,” says Langan.

For Langan, that outrage in Good Neighbors focuses on climate change and the toxicity of neighborhoods that occurs when people treat those who are different unkindly.

Pretty as a Picture

An isolated island, two unsolved murders two decades apart, and a megalomaniacal director are all part of the job for Marissa Dahl, a talented film director who finds herself in the middle of it all.

In Pretty as a Picture, Elizabeth Little’s latest thriller, film director Marissa Dahl accepts a job to work on an isolated island off the coast of Delaware with the notoriously erratic director Tony Rees. When she arrives on the set, Dahl doesn’t know much about her new job except that the movie is about a woman who was murdered there two decades ago. But there’s more going on besides a megalomaniacal director and an old unsolved murder.  Rees wants the movie to convey, in graphic detail, the woman’s death; numerous scandals are about to erupt and before long, another woman is found dead. Will she be next, Marissa wonders? 

         Extremely talented Marissa, who has high functioning-like autistic social interactions, is befriended by two completed wired-in teenaged girls when she goes in search of peanut butter. The girls are convinced that there’s more to the local murder than meets the eye. Teaming up they work to solve the mystery.

         Little knows Hollywood. Her husband had many miserable years there working in the business (he’s now getting a degree in social worker) and she’s met her share of outrageous and egotistical directors. That in part is why she wrote this, her second mystery.

         “With Pretty as a Picture, I had known for a couple of months that I wanted to write something about the film business—I live in Los Angeles and am married to an ex-filmmaker, so it was a subject that was very close at hand,” says Little. “I tried writing a few chapters, working out some of the plot lines, but nothing really took root until I realized that my main character was a film editor who was far more comfortable in the company of her favorite movies than in that of real-life people. I wish I could say that inspiration struck suddenly—or even efficiently—but I think I just had to write my way into the realization.”

         Little describes herself as writing in a highly immersive first-person perspective.

         “I want my readers to be in both the heads and the bodies of my narrators, to really feel what they’re feeling,” she says. “And in order to do this, I work really hard to put myself into a place, mentally, where I’m able to credibly conjure up the physical and emotional sensations of my narrators. I don’t just put myself in their shoes, in other words—I put myself in their muscle and sinew and skin. It’s a little extreme at times, to be honest, and I wonder at times if I’m Daniel Day Lewissing it—when I finish a day of work, it can really feel like I’m finally coming up for air.  It’s probably far too pretentious an approach for a thriller writer, but it seems, so far, to be working for me.”

         Little may not like Hollywood, but she does like Marissa.

“She’s particularly dear to me because she’s so deeply uncool and sweet and weird,” she says. “She’s vulnerable and awkward and loyal and hilarious and annoying and really, really good at her job. I love her. I hope readers love her, too.”

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