M.J. Rose is an international bestselling author. You may recall her Reincarnationist series, including The Hypnotist. When I began hearing publishing industry buzz about her soon-to-be-released novel in that series, The Book of Lost Fragrances, I knew I wanted to get my hands on an advance readers’ copy (ARC). Although I knew she was well known for writing thrillers, this one didn’t appear to be one at first glance. How could something like perfume be the subject for a thriller? Well, that thought evidently just shows a lack of imagination on my part. Although women may be drawn to the title, men and women will enjoy this thriller!
The L’Etoile family has owned House of L’Etoile, a perfumery in Paris, for hundreds of years. Their top-flight signature fragrances are among the most recognized in the world and a source of jealousy among their rivals in the world’s perfumery industry. Their reputation is unparalleled and is bolstered even further by a family legend, that the L’Etoile family possesses a book of fragrances originating in Ancient Egypt.
In 1799, 30-year-old Giles L’Etoile went with 29-year-old Napoleon and a crew of explorers on a grave-robbing expedition in Egypt. Napoleon was intent on learning as much as possible about ancient Egypt. While there, they uncovered a sealed tomb containing an embracing couple in one sarcophagus. Each mummy held a small, covered clay vessel containing a fragrant ointment that had a profound hallucinatory effect on everyone in the chamber. The hieroglyphics on the vessels indicated this couple believed the fragrance they held would help them identify each other in future reincarnations. Monsieur L’Etoile had heard Cleopatra’s perfumery was rumored to have created a perfume that could show past lives. Could this really be that fragrance?
“As he [Giles] battled the vertigo, his awareness of the scent became more powerful, more intimate. Finally, he began to identify specific ingredients. Frankincense and myrrh, blue lotus and almond oil. All popular in Egyptian fragrances and incenses. But there was something else, elusive and just beyond his reach…’A perfume that hasn’t been breathed for centuries,’ L’Eotoile whispered.”
For generations, the L’Etoile family tried to recreate the fragrance but its existence was only passed down verbally among family members, so over time their forebear’s adventure became the subject of family myth and many didn’t even believe such a book of fragrances ever existed. They thought it had to be a promotion gimmick the family used to unsettle its rivals. After all, family members could never remember having seen such a book.
Jac and her brother Robbie grew up surrounded by exotic scents. They even had a miniature fragrance organ to play with as children, just like the large fragrance organ in the perfumery that their father used to combine a myriad of scents into House of L’Eoile’s sought-after fragrances.
Jac, more than Robbie, inherited the family’s nose for scents; however, her nose was so sensitive that being in the lab or close to the fragrance organ caused her to have horrible headaches and strange visions that became unbearable. When her mother committed suicide, Jac fled to America while Robbie stayed with his father in Paris. Even though she was far from the perfumery, Jac’s uncontrollable visions continued and she underwent intensive therapy to learn to control them. She was even diagnosed as schizophrenic at one point.
“I was worried you weren’t coming. The soft voice seemed to come from the air around the translucent spector, not from within it. She’s not real, Jac reminded herself as she stepped inside, closing the door behind her. My mother’s ghost is an aberration. A delusion of my imagination. A holdover from the illness. The last relic of those terrible times.”
When Jac and Robbie’s dad passes away, they are made heirs to House of L’Etoile – to all of its wonderful fragrances and all of its horrible debts. Robbie wants to find some way to salvage the family business but Jac just wants it sold off and out of her life for good. He is certain he can uncover the family’s secret, the lost book of fragrances and save the business but time is rapidly running out.
“He’d [Robbie had] believed that one day they would find the book of fragrances that their ancestor had brought back from Egypt, and use its formulas to create wonderful elixirs. Whenever he talked about it, she’d [Jac would] smile at him in the condescending way that older siblings have and say, ‘Maman told me that’s just make-believe.’”
Robbie finally lets her know he is making great progress on solving the family mystery and persuades her to put off the sale a bit longer. He has found pieces of an ancient clay vessel. And then Robbie suddenly disappears without a trace and a dead body is found in the House of L’Etoile lab. Jac finds herself in the position she never wanted to be in again. She has no choice but to return to their home in Paris, to the perfumery where her dreaded visions were at their worst, all so she can find her brother. Can she keep her sanity that close to the fragrance organ? Can she even bear to enter the lab where her mother killed herself? Who is this dead man and why was he in the lab? Where is Robbie and what has happened to him?
Jac is tortured by the past. She’s a character you want to hug and tell it will all be okay, whether you believe it or not. Robbie has indominable spirit and I cheered him on from the beginning. I cheered on Jac for entirely different reasons. As the reader, I suspected things about her and I cheered for her to come to those realizations. Jac is that person who holds back out of fear while Robbie is the one who dashes ahead no matter what because he is so determined to reach his ultimate goal, which may not be what you think it is.
The Book of Lost Fragrances is a very convoluted and complex tale with a number of interwoven storylines that I haven’t even touched on including one involving the Dalai Lama, one involving China, and one involving people from a Manhattan center for reincarnation studies. There are even several romances to spice things up. Hey, it only makes sense since the lost fragrance is essentially a soul-mate fragrance.
The adventure starts immediately and doesn’t let up. It only gets more and more intense the farther you get into the novel, until you are racing along literal twists and turns in the catacombs of Paris as well as above ground toward the conclusion. This is another novel I literally couldn’t put down. I stayed up almost all night reading The Book of Lost Fragrances, and I didn’t begrudge a minute of lost sleep because it was such a fun rollercoaster ride! Hmmm, can you say bestseller material?
The Book of Lost Fragrances will be released on March 13, 2012, but it is available for pre-order from your favorite bookseller below. Just click the button to go there to get it.
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