A deeply satisfying mixture of Ann Rice (Vampire Series, Mayfair Witches) meets Dan Brown (Da Vinci Code), M.J. Rose crafts a tale that combines obscure history with modern day current events into a Gothic suspense thriller in the vein of Cornell Woolrich. It’s also a romance spanning two thousand years of history from Cleopatra’s Egypt, and her Persimmon Groves, to Ancient and modern Tibet, China to New York City and Revolutionary France to the current day beauty of Paris. It lures the reader into a plot that is as intriguing as the perfume at it’s center.
Jac L'Etoile along with her brother, Robbie, are the heir to the famous and once profitable L'Etoile Parfumerie in France. She now lives in the U.S. and has a ‘myth busters-like’ cable TV show having left the running of the family business to her brother Robbie. Jac is a fragile women who suffered from delusional episodes as a child after her mothers suicide. She was treated by renown hypnotist and reincarnationist Malachi Samuels of the Phoenix Foundation.
In Paris, Robbie has discovered a collection of Egyptian pottery shards that once held what is thought to be a perfume that could aid in revealing past lives and reuniting soul mates across the centuries. It may be a memory tool, sought by Malachi, Tibetan Buddhists and shadowy factions of different governments.
Inscribed on the pieces of pottery are a clue to Cleopatra’s The Book of Lost Fragrances. With the help of Jac’s one time lover and Robbie’s friend, Egyptologist and Archeologist, Griffin North, Robbie hopes to translate the characters on the pottery shards and ultimately deliver them to the Dali Lama. He also wants to decipher the perfume that the shards once held in the hopes of being able to reproduce the perfume and resurrect the fortunes of the L'Etoile Parfumerie. But modern science can only identify four of the ingredients, the last, thought to be lost to history. What is more intriguing is the perfume is thought to reunite reincarnated soul mates, having been invented by Cleopatra’s own perfumer, just before his death, for his lover so that they would be able to recognize each other when they meet in the future.
In Tibet, the Chinese government not only has made being reincarnated against the law with out government approval, so as to suppress the ‘birth’ of The Panchen Lama (and thus Tibetan Buddhism), who alone can recognize the new Dali Lama when it becomes time to announce him to the world. China is rumored to have kidnapped and brain washed the child said to be reincarnate for this purpose. But in China, this child, called Xie Ping and educated as a calligrapher, has remembered despite the brain washing attempt and is scheduled to join a group of Chinese art students on a trip to Paris.
In New York, Doctor Samuel Malachi, who is a friend of both Jac and Robbie L'Etoile wants the shards for his own purposes. He wishes to possess them as ‘memory tools’ so that he might prove reincarnation to the science as well as government world’s.
On the brink of bankruptcy, Robbie has resisted financial offers by Malachi that could just barely pay his family’s debt. He has also opposed his sister, Jac’s wish to sell two of the firms signature scents to a major perfume factory to achieve the same ends. Robbie is sure that Jac’s ‘nose’ could identify the lost ingredient, and thus help him recreate this scent of soul mates. He is also moved to deliver the shards to the Dali Lama in Paris at an art show that he thinks the Dali Lama may attend.
When someone tries to kill Robbie, one late night, as he is working in his father lab, trying to translate the ancient characters on the pottery, as well as find the rumored Book Of Lost Fragrances, Robbie disappears, leaving the would be assassin dead on the floor. Jac fly’s to France where she is confronted by the police. She is also reunited with Griffin, who she still loves and they join forces to find Robbie and the shards. Malachi, supposedly as a family friend and Jac’s therapist soon follows her to Paris where he stirs the interest of both the French and Americans since he is a suspected ‘memory tool’ thief.
As these competing forces come together in pursuit of the shards and their secret, the plot takes us through the streets of Paris, both in the modern day as well as Napoleon's Paris and the French Revolution’s violence and through the catacombs of subterranean Paris as assassin’s and entrepreneurs, Buddhist nuns and the police pursue their own competing motives.
Rose captures the reader with her beautiful and evocative prose as well as the historical details and the emotional love story that make this plot as irresistible as the scent that brings together soul mates. The Gothic details; the ancient mansion and the secrets it holds(both the home, boutique and perfumery of the L'Etoile’s) as well as the detail of both modern day and 17th century France, the atmosphere of both mystery and suspense, the foreshadowing of ghosts and doom and the dreams. The legends and haunting memories at the edge of consciousness Jac suffers, that might be reincarnationist memories or the reoccurrence of madness. These are all used masterfully and aren’t so heavy as to impede the pace. The historical data and the liberal sprinkling of invented historical detail mesh together like an ancient puzzle.
Rose has entered another realm and written what is bound to be one of this years best books. The Book Of Lost Fragrance's could be considered the fourth book in the The Reincarnationist series, along side ,The Reincarnationist, The Memorist , and The Hypnotist but it reads excellently as a stand-alone novel or an introduction to the rest of the series. The book will be released on March 13th but can be preordered today by following the links above.
Copyright © 2012 Robert Carraher All Rights ReservedArticle first published as Book Review: The Book Of Lost Fragrances by M.J. Rose on Blogcritics.