cover image The Perfume Thief

The Perfume Thief

Timothy Schaffert. Doubleday, $27.95 (368p) ISBN 978-0-385-54574-7

Schaffert’s intoxicating blend of decadence and intrigue (after The Swan Gondola) brings Nazi-occupied Paris vividly to life. Narrator Clementine, a gender-fluid American expatriate in her 70s, is a perfumer and former thief who embraces the transgressive habitués of the city’s bordellos and cabarets. When a singer friend asks Clementine to steal the hidden diary of her father, the world-renowned perfumer Pascal, from the house the Nazis ejected them from, Clementine hopes to kill two birds with one stone: keep Pascal’s perfume formula out of his enemies’ hands, and take possession herself of his trade secrets, some of which she believes he stole from her. To achieve her goal, Clementine turns latter-day Scheherazade, stringing along Pascal’s Nazi usurper, bureaucrat Oskar Voss, while unfurling a running account of her colorful and queer personal history as she searches the perfumer’s premises. Schaffert’s evocation of Paris and its wartime demimonde is sensual and alluring, but the heart of his novel is Clementine’s demonstration through her own adventures of how every life is its own heady perfume, distilled from the personal experiences of the individual. This is a rich and rewarding tale, as original and unique as the handiwork of its eponymous character. Agent: Alice Tasman, Jean V. Naggar Literary. (Aug.)