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.
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 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.
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.