The Perfume Thief

Doubleday. Aug. 2021. 368p. ISBN 9780385545747. $27. F
The latest historical novel by Schaffert (The Swan Gondola) tells the story of Clementine, a queer American septuagenarian ex-con who is living in the Paris demimonde when the Nazis occupy the city. Clem is convinced to do one last job of thievery and rebellion in order to find the diary of a Jewish perfumer before it reveals the identity of his daughter to the Nazis. Clem uses the skills and knowledge she has developed over the years to complete her task. The first half of this novel drags—Clem spends a good deal of time reminiscing about her past, thinking about her age, and worming her way into the good graces of the officer now residing in the perfumer’s house. The volume of research that went into creating Clem’s world is apparent in the novel’s little factual details, like the subcutaneous perfume craze and mentions of the ties between perfume and chemical warfare. In spite of the amount of research and thought Schaffert put into his novel, it disappoints overall. For a book focused on perfume, the sensory descriptions are too few and far between.
VERDICT While the concept, the characters, and the well-researched details of the setting are intriguing, the plot drags, resulting in an underwhelming read.
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