If you write, as I do, crime stories, you get advice. They, they say, these people, read what is contemporary. Discover what's in fashion. Get a feel for the market. Well, we all know that recently virtually any thriller with the word 'girl' in the title had a head start. But there is something else I have discovered which is essential for modern crime tales.
What I am seeing right now is this: there is invariably a redhead. If she is the heroine then she generally comes with tumbling curls. If they don't tumble then they frame her pale/lightly freckled/lively face. The hero at some stage has to tuck behind her ear a wandering stray wisp of hair. That is essential too. It hints at a wild and free spirit, or maybe frailty. Is she fiery, or vulnerable? She is always slim, yet strong; pretty, but not conventionally so. She would be noticed in a crowd. Of course sometimes the redhead is a lesser character, in which case her hair colour suggests infamy. (Spanish and Italian painters in the past often portrayed Judas Iscariot as a red head.)
When our heroine isn't tossing her tumbling curls then she is biting her lip. How many people do you know that you consciously see biting their lips? What does this denote? Uncertainty? Back to our friend vulnerability? Despite anything she may have achieved in life (though there are precious few CEOs or think tank analysts among these redheads) she needs looking after. An exception is Val McDermid's forensic scientist, River, who has a 'mane of red hair', indicating, I think, her maverick approach, the edgy rule breaker.
Which is where man with dirty blond hair comes in. So many crime stories have a hero with dirty blond hair. When I read that phrase I think shampoo. Of course I am not supposed to think of shampoo. I am supposed to think sex. Dirty blond hair equals sexy. Only for a man of course. Redheads don't have dirty anything, except perhaps feet occasionally when they are on a beach, usually alone, thinking of dirty blond man. The moment you get a book with a redhead and a dirty blond it is a given they will end up in bed together.
Red covers all autumnal shades running up a scale from a pale ginger through orange, copper to deep chestnut. The country that provides the most redheads is Scotland. (My mother was Scottish and her hair was a thick burgundy.) There, according to my friend Wiki, 13% of the population are red heads. Compare that to the 1-2% of the human population worldwide. Or the 0.57% of Italians. It is in fact the rarest natural colour in humans. The largest group of red headed people in the world live in the Volga lowlands of Russia. It's the result of a recessive genetic trait, come all the way down from Neanderthal man.
And while between the covers of a thriller red heads are pretty black and white in character all changes with history and mythology. Think Queen Elizabeth 1 and Henry VIII. Short tempered, hot tempered. Consider too Jezebel; the red headed wife of King Ahab. The epithet Jezebel sums up all that is thought to be wicked in a woman; shameless, immoral, cruel. She sought power, influenced her husband (badly) in his beliefs. For that she was pushed off a balcony and eaten by dogs.
Lilith's reputation is not much better. Another archetypal red headed wicked woman she was Adam's first wife (yes, that Adam). According to Jewish folklore she grew wings and fled the garden after Adam tried to prove his superiority by insisting she lie beneath him. Depending on your point of view she was either a woman seeking independence declaring men and women are equal, or a symbol of destruction with her vengeful approach to men and children. vSo despite it being the rarest natural hair colour in humans it flourishes in thrillers. One defined her hair as the colour 'of a muted sunset'. Were I a redhead I'd be tempted to adopt that as a description of myself. A beautiful phrase and I wish I could recall the title of the book. If you can help me out there I'd be grateful. Likewise the title and author of a story in which a surrogate father lives in a forest with his ten red-headed children...?
Is it time for a new rating system? Forget the stars. Count the red heads.
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