A sinister French wigmaker plies his trade in late-19th-century Florida: New Zealander Chidgey’s third outing (after The Strength of the Sun, 2002, etc.).
Foundling Lucien Goulet learned his craft in Paris from a perruqier who took him on as an apprentice. Over time, Goulet’s work excelled that of his master, who claimed it as his own—so Goulet murdered him and fled to America. Thus far the tale bears a striking resemblance to Patrick Süskind’s Perfume, which also featured a Parisian foundling with an extraordinary gift who progressed to murder; but Chidgey lacks Süskind’s ability to integrate the lore of a trade with a killer storyline. In 1895, after lying low for a year, Goulet establishes himself as a wigmaker at the spectacular Tampa Bay Hotel, setting for the climax. Parallel plotlines focus on Marion Unger, a young American widow with gorgeous white-blond hair, and Rafael Méndez, a Cuban teenager and apprentice cigar-maker. It’s hair, of course, that brings them together by maddeningly slow degrees. Marion commissions a commemorative hair bracelet from Goulet, who later hires Rafael to scour refuse for hair clippings. When Marion catches him going through her trash, it’s not exactly meeting cute, but she’s gracious, and Rafael develops a serious crush on her. Unfortunately, readers are constantly drawn away from this welcome romantic interest by Goulet’s pronouncements on the hair business and the stupidity of women. When Marion asks for a “transformation,” he’s ecstatic; she means a few extra curls, but Goulet, exhibiting a carnal joy in hair of such delicacy, produces a massive wig, even kidnapping a little girl to harvest more white-blond hair. Marion rejects the wig. Will this fire up Goulet’s killer instincts? In the event, the close is more farcical than deadly.
Weighty with period research, but with little narrative payoff.