Fragrant Fiction – Book Review: Aphrodesia by John Oehler

By Jordan River

In the flickering light of a hundred oil lamps, Balquees stood in her bath trying to conceal her anxiety from the servant girls washing her.

“We have come prepared, my queen.” Stepping forward, the vizier produced a golden flask from his robes.“Provided you are willing to endure a rapture so powerful it could consume both of you in its fire.”
“I am willing.”
He hesitated. “Are you certain?”
Balquees held out her hand. “Give me the fragrance.”

So begins Aphrodesia, a scented story by John Oehler. I can already see the movie starring a bronzed Katie Puckrick as Balquees, The Queen of Sheba. After such a portentous beginning I was so disappointed when the tale moved into the 21 century and stayed there. The disappointment lasted a chapter or two then I became fully engaged in the perfume action which moved like lightening from Versailles to New York, Yemen, Marseilles, Grasse, Nice, and Cap d’Ail.

Eric, a talented student of perfume making, perfects a perfume that acts as an aphrodisiac. His perfume formula, based on The Queen of Sheba’s SOTN when she met King Solomon, is stolen along with a crucial ingredient. A plagiarised perfume is then launched with world wide commercial success. Unfortunately the copycat version enflames not just passion but murder which thankfully is not expressed in gory detail in the style of Süskind (“Perfume”).

Top perfumery school ISIPCA, the Osmothèque, a perfume launch in a palace, police departments, forensic chemistry labs, an ingredient distillery, and a jail are meticulously described. This novel is extremely well researched and full of perfume knowledge and terms. The author has explored perfume and its associated industries for 29 years. His interest took him to the French perfume museum and repository, the Osmothèque where he meet Jean Kerléo, the founder and president. Prior to founding the museum Jean spent 30 years as the Master Perfumer for Jean Patou. This man became the inspiration for John’s novel. John wanted to write a story that would honor the perfume profession. He has achieved this goal with considerable aplomb in his third novel. This fumey fiction is a thriller.

Jean Kerléo, Osmothèque

A vault in the Osmothèque presided over by Jean Kerléo. Photo: John Oehler

ISIPCA, perfume school, Versailles

ISIPCA is the post-grad school in Versailles for perfume, cosmetic and flavour studies
Photo: http://www.osmotheque.fr

I wanted to be annoyed about the exotic and erotic typecasting of the Chinese Lesbian Flavourist but I couldn’t be. Her character was so engaging and her razor sharp mind continuously moved the plot forward to a breathtaking climax, in a library. Aspects of human nature are explored as Abby, the Chinese Lesbian Flavourist, and Tanya, the forensic chemist assist Eric in finding the formula thief.

Tired of oud perfume releases? Ha, oud is a crucial part of the plot. The oud tsunami has swept beyond reality into fiction.

There are sensual scenes which are easy to skim if, like me, you prefer to make love rather than reading about it.

Hopefully John will complete the Queen of Sheba story in an upcoming novel.

When John was studying perfume he realized his scent preferences were Oriental. Orientals are also his wife’s preferred notes, a fact which he says has contributed to their lifelong compatibility. Sweet.

One of the premises of the book is that

Great perfumes have always had one purpose: to seduce. – John Oehler

I disagree. I scent for personal pleasure and on some occasions to create atmosphere. But maybe is he is right because I am often seduced by the juice, the flacon, the notes, the perfumer and the story long before I have encountered it’s sillage on another being. And you? What are your thought on the purpose of perfume?

John Oehler

John Oehler, Novelist

John is contactable through his website. He is happy to chat about the forensic uses of scent, fragrance related medical diagnoses (as a layman) and fine perfumes.

Aphrodesia, John Oehler, Perfume Fiction
Aphrodesia by John Oehler is available on Amazon for the unbelievable price of $USD2.99 (2,60€) on Kindle or $USD13.52 (11,60€) in paperback. Worth every scent.

Further Reading

John Oehler website
Post graduate perfume studies at ISIPCA
Jola visits the Osmotheque
Now Smell This – Review by Aleta
Cafleurebon Book Review by Tama Blough

Editor’s Note: Thank you, Jordan, for this engaging review, I for one will be sure to read this book soon. Please take a look at Jordan’s new blog The Fragrant Man to read more of his work.

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38 Responses to Fragrant Fiction – Book Review: Aphrodesia by John Oehler

  1. Pingback: Perfume Thriller – Interview with John Oehler of Aphrodesia Fame | The Fragrant Man

  2. Sandra says:

    Jordan – thank you for the great review! I found the cover to be somewhat ominous and never got further than that. You make it sound quite interesting and I look forward to reading the book now. For me the purpose of perfume is a ritual that calms soothes and at times seduces.

  3. Jordan River says:

    Yes, spooked me too but it is not a horror to read. I like your …at times. Hope they are wonderful times.

    • acstrommen says:

      It sounds really interesting. But I’m a sensitive soul, so I do hope it’s not too “thrilling.” I can’t take gore and horror! I’m still traumatized from Silence of the Lambs! 😉

      • Jordan River says:

        Absolutely agree acstrommen. Why fill your beautiful mind with horror? GIGO – garbage in garbage out. Bad dreams are unlikely with this book. The 1 or 2 parts that you might be sensitive too are not described in vivid and ongoing details.

  4. poodle says:

    Too many books, too little time. My Kindle has a ton of books on it just waiting to be read and it looks like I need to add another to the list. Thanks for the review.

  5. Jordan River says:

    poodle, you know there are more perfumes released each year than books? LOL. Isn’t it great carrying around so many books though? Not even heavy. This book will get you through a weekend.

  6. Kafkaesque says:

    I had no idea the book was about this. I somehow had the vague impression from coming across the name and references to it elsewhere that it was some extremely serious, non-fiction text. What you’re describing is completely up my alley and I shall definitely look for it. It sounds as riveting as Suskind’s “Perfume” (which you know I adore as much as you).

    As for the issue of perfumes being meant solely to seduce — I disagree with him, especially on the point of “always,” unless he’s limiting it only to the “great” scents of relatively recent times (the last 100 years) and to people in the past. Obviously, he’s not talking about perfumery in general, as history proves him wrong. But even the seduction thing and the Guerlain/mistress comment that he makes on your blog is a relatively recent modern phenomenon, imo, and one which we’ve long moved passed. Everything changes with time and, in this modern time, great perfumes have changed again in their purpose from mere seduction to encompass reflections of one’s personality, olfactory armour, mood modifiers and much more.

    P.S. – Please urge him to write more about Balquees and the Queen of Sheba’s scent of the night… 😉

    • Jordan River says:

      O Kafka! Yes we agree. In the context of fiction and this novel though his perfume purpose makes perfect sense. And there are certainly people today haven’t moved on from that concept. Can’t say more because I am not a plot spoiler. As for the urging – there has been a response, a positive one. The pen moves as we speak. Give me the fragrance. And the book!

  7. brie says:

    Jordan- but this was a fantastic review! I was minorly intrigued by the book but after your post you have completely whet my appetite and I must seek it out now!
    Looking forward to exploring your new blog 🙂 !

    • Jordan River says:

      Yes I was minorly intrigued too then pleasantly surprised and ended up thrilled. On perfumes and books and indeed, life – What you seek is seeking you – Rumi

      • brie says:

        Love that quote…it’s hanging on my bulletin board at work now..

        • Jordan River says:

          Great, it can sound a little spooky out of context but great for perfumers and perfume lovers. Rumi is a Sufi Mystic. He also whispers ‘more’.

          • brie says:

            Actually it is a great quote for life in general (I am notorious for writing down quotes that I love…in journals, date books, on calendars, bulletin boards,etc….yup..I’m that “nutty” :)!
            But one can always use some inspiration from time to time, right? I will have to seek out some more of Rumi’s writings…I am intrigued..thanks for sharing!

  8. Nice one Jordan!!
    Excellent. Can’t wait to get my hands on a copy now.
    Portia xx

  9. Jordan River says:

    Bookish Portia – a great one for your library. I remember your beautiful halls with floor to ceiling books.

  10. Thank you for the wonderful review, Jordan! I was curious about this when I heard about it. It’s nice to have a trustworthy perspective!

  11. Undina says:

    Sorry, Jordan, but I cannot read your review: I never read reviews to books that I haven’t read: if I plan to read them, I don’t want to be influenced; and if I do not plan on reading them – why to bother with a review? 😉

    • Jordan River says:

      Good modus operandi. I often but not always do this with new releases in fragrance. Then I catch up on the bookmarked reviews after I have sampled a few times or purchased. All you need to know is that there is a perfume thriller available.

  12. masha7 says:

    OK, Jordan, you convinced me and I ordered it. I’ve read other positive reviews, too, so you’re not on the hook if I don’t like it…! What persuaded me to buy a copy was that the reviews have all said, like yours, that it’s both a very good thriller and true to the perfume industry. So it sounds like a good one for nerdy perfumista like me. Thanks for the great review!

  13. Jordan River says:

    Have a great read ahead masha7. I love armchair travelling. It saves a lot of money which can be diverted to fragrant explorations in real time. There is a nerdy interview with the author at thefragrantman.com .

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