Hair’s the Proof

Johnny Depp as George Jung in Blow
Johnny Depp as George Jung in Blow
It could only happen in Florida. A man walked into a local bank and gave the teller a note demanding $30,000. She gave him the money, but as he ran down the street with it, the dye bomb attached to it exploded and left him red-handed. Literally. But the $30,000 must have made him feel invincible because he stopped running and went into a hair salon and asked for a manicure. Then he said he'd also like hair extensions. Said he wanted to look like Johnny Depp in Blow. I've gotta have a soft spot in my heart for a guy like that. I have the kind of wispy, super-fine hair that gets thrown on Christmas trees.  But his dreams of looking like Johnny Depp were quashed when police walked in. He didn't even get to let his manicure dry. 

Lisa Scottline
Lisa Scottline
I love Johnny Depp, but I don't want his hair. I want Laura Lippman's hair, that smooth blond cap that you just know always looks like that even if she's caught in a rainstorm. And I might make a deal with the devil himself for Lisa Scottoline's hair. And have you seen Chelsea Cain's hair? My gosh, with hair like that, no wonder she created a convincing character who carves out the innards of her victim who loves her and lusts for her anyway.

When I'm reading a mystery, I don't much care what color a female character's eyes are, I want to know about her hair. Is it long, short, thick, thin? What color is it? Does she color it or let it stay natural? If I know what she does with her hair, I know more about her character and history than I would if the author spelled it out for me. Stephanie Plum's teased-out-to-Jesus mop of brown curls marks her as a “burg” girl more than anything else. When we first meet Stieg Larsson's Lisbeth Salander, we're told that her natural red hair has been dyed raven black and cut “short as a fuse.” Even without her piercings and tattoos, we don't need to know many more details to know that her temper is probably short as her hair. In Marcia Talley's All Things Undying, there's a character-revealing moment when Hannah Ives looks at her reflection in a store window, fluffs out her curls, and confesses to an old friend that she got highlights because she'd been panicky about the gray in her hair. 

Sharon Small as Barbara Havers in BBC’s The Inspector Lynley Mysteries
Sharon Small as Barbara Havers in BBC’s The Inspector Lynley Mysteries
Hair detail can work against a character, too. I was disappointed in the film version of Elizabeth George's Barbara Havers, because her hair looked so recently and expertly shampooed. George's character in her books wouldn't have had the time or money to get her hair so healthy and shiny.

My hair naturally waves and curls, but no two hairs curl in the same direction, so I've probably spent at least five years of my life smoothing it so it looks good in my bathroom mirror. But in the time it takes me to get from the bathroom to the front door, it has frizzed and kinked, and little hairs have sprouted all over my head in a kind of electrified halo. For one of the Florida mystery writers' conferences, I got my hair professionally hot-ironed. The stylist not only ironed it, she put something like mustache wax on it to keep it smooth. But a tropical storm blew in and roared around the veranda of the hotel where a group photo of the writers was taken. In the photo, all the other women look charmingly wind-blown. I look like Einstein if he'd just stuck his finger in a light socket.

It's enough to make a woman think of turning to crime. Like robbing a bank for enough money to get hair extensions.

Blaize Clement is the author of the Dixie Hemingway Mystery Series


  1. Terrie Farley Moran

    I take for granted that a character will live up to his or her hair. Unkempt hair–disorderly mind and so forth, but your analysis of the hair on the heads of some of my favorite writers is an avenue I hadn’t thought of–hmmm–I wonder if there is a relationship between their hair and why I read their books. 😉

  2. Laura K. Curtis

    My hair is a flipping disaster. For more than forty years it was so straight that even a perm couldn’t make it hold a curl more than a couple of weeks. And then, and then, and then…they changed my epilepsy meds. My hair fell out in huge chunks and the places it fell out, it grew back curly. Which means that it’s now half and half. Even my hairdresser doesn’t know what to do with it.

    I find my characters are often controlled by unruly physical issues like frizzy hair or migraines. I never thought of that as an echo of myself, but now I am beginning to wonder!

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