"Did someone say 'queer espionage'? Clementine is one of the best protagonists of the summer... Other authors have had clever takes on World War II spy novels, but none has created a voice like Clem’s, at once a true artist and a woman spinning a tale to save her life."—Los Angeles Times
"A hint of Moulin Rouge, a whiff of Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale, a little spritz of Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief... The Perfume Thief is a pulse-pounding thriller and a sensuous experience you’ll want to savor."—Oprah Daily
“Entrancing . . . The writing is exquisite, each well-chosen word bringing to elegant life a Paris that no longer exists. . . Clementine and her gorgeous suits, her exotic past, her many and varied lovers, are metaphors for not only the queer society in which she moves, but for the many incarnations of the city of Paris herself. The descriptions of perfumes and their creation are so vivid I sometimes thought I actually discerned those scents on the air. Highly recommended!”—Historical Novels Review
"[An] intoxicating blend of decadence and intrigue . . . Schaffert’s evocation of Paris and its wartime demimonde is sensual and alluring, but the heart of his novel is Clementine’s demonstration through her own adventures of how every life is its own heady perfume. . . This is a rich and rewarding tale, as original and unique as the handiwork of its eponymous character."—Publishers Weekly *starred review*
"Timothy Schaffert’s sixth novel has so much going for it that it’s hard to pinpoint only a few reasons why you will love it. . . With a healthy dose of romance, fashion and espionage and a glimpse of the lives of openly queer artists under Nazi occupation, The Perfume Thief is a reminder that Paris, even in the pages of a book, always makes for a great escape."—Bookpage
"Incorporating the tense setting of Nazi-occupied Paris, Schaffert concocts a memorable work that oozes atmosphere and originality. . . It boasts beguiling characters who gain depth with each unveiled layer. Schaffert creates a lasting impression through his tribute to these unique artists, the 'alchemists of the city’s very soul,' and their courageous and creatively daring methods of resistance."—Booklist
"Intoxicatingly vivid. . . The Perfume Thief lyrically savors the myths and lore of fragrance ‘made of whispers, of secrets written in the cream of your coffee,’ wrapped in a gripping historical mystery. . . [Schaffert] delivers an unusual, clever tale that captures the nuances of Paris under occupation, featuring resilient characters fighting for the city’s soul."—Shelf Awareness
"The Perfume Thief is an exceptional novel told in an extraordinary voice, a book about finding beauty at the most difficult times: in the walls of your room, inside your closets, and in those you love. It's also a hell of a yarn. What more could you want?"—Elizabeth McCracken, author of Bowlaway
"For the perfume to work, the wearer has to believe what I tell them. And you, too, will believe every word from the unforgettable Clementine, the perfumer and thief who shares her breathtaking story with dazzling notes that seduce over time. Like the very best fragrances, this book lingers on all of your senses, continuing to enchant, long after the final page. A truly remarkable tale."—Steven Rowley, author of Lily and the Octopus and The Editor
"Oh, how I adored this book! In The Perfume Thief, Timothy Schaffert treats us to a wartime Paris with a sharply delicious difference. As the habitués of the city’s late night demimonde perform an uneasy tango with the Nazi occupiers, we learn that resistance can take many forms, but it’s never easy. This novel is beguiling, sumptuous, and gripping. And the writing is so gorgeous, it will slay you."—Alex George, author of The Paris Hours
"The Perfume Thief is Schaffert’s best novel yet... at once a lush, sometimes chilling work of WWII-era historical fiction and also a fanciful queer romp about outcasts and thieves, lepidopterists and lesbian perfume... Intoxicating"—emily danforth, author of Plain Bad Heroines
"A long-lost romance! Espionage! Fashion! Crime! History! The resistance! A 72-year-old reformed con artist who just has to do one last crime!!! If you’re reading this and thinking to yourself, ‘Wow this is up my alley,’ I can promise you, it’s all you wanted and more."—Alma
"...Full of decadence, intrigue, and danger."—The Millions
"...A fun page-turner, and it’s truly not every day you get to see a 72-year-old lesbian at the center of a novel like this one."—Vox
"Richly imagined, exquisitely written, this tale enthralls on every page."—The Toronto Star
"Schaffert imbues this story of resistance, love, and loss with hefty emotion... The Perfume Thief has some thrilling moments, plenty of suspense, and frequently high stakes, but it’s far too poetic to be a mere espionage tale. Schaffert’s gorgeous prose elevates the narrative, engaging all of the senses with both bitter and sweet flavors... Like Clem’s perfumes, The Perfume Thief is a book that lingers long after you’ve set it down."—Criminal Element
"The queer spy novel about WWII Paris that I never knew I needed and now could not possibly consider living without... Elegant and elegiac, a paean to the Old Paris, or perhaps a Paris That Never Was, The Perfume Thief is perfectly pitched by the publisher as A Gentleman in Moscow meets Moulin Rouge."—CrimeReads
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.—Bree Jennrich, Kirkwood P.L., MO
Nightlife goes on in Schaffert’s ornate tableau of Nazi-occupied Paris.
Schaffert’s narrator, Clementine, is presumably in her 70s, though she’s not talking. A Nebraska native, Clem is self-described as queer and has long preferred the persona of a dapper dandy. Settling in Paris after a long history of thievery in the United States, and one monumental and disappointing love affair with another person known only as M, she dares not return to the U.S., where too many warrants await. In France, she exploits her other signature talent, perfumery. Her chief competitor, Pascal, has disappeared, which is no surprise since Paris has been seized by the Nazis and Pascal is Jewish. Pascal’s Left Bank hôtel particulier now bivouacs aging Nazi kingpin Voss, who, as a member of the old guard, clings desperately to his rank. Zoé, Pascal’s daughter, sings torch songs incognito in a cabaret attached to a bordello. Lush description of scents and extravagant lists of everything from butterflies to poisons underscore Clem’s prodigious powers of observation, but the novel’s beautifully rendered atmosphere is no substitute for suspense and conflict. The aesthete Voss and the loutish but lovelorn Lutz, whose unwilling mistress Zoé becomes, are not particularly menacing though they're Nazis, and the terrors of the Occupation—the dispossession and removal of the city’s Jews, the hunger, the cruelty of the occupiers and the co-optation of the occupied—are mostly offstage. There are nods to the Resistance—but even here, misplaced whimsy obtains: for example, tobacco-scavenging nuns branch out into helping prostitutes flee south, disguised in habits. In what passes for an overarching plotline, Voss and Clem form an uneasy alliance to ferret out Pascal’s hidden perfumer’s diary as part of a double-cross which begins as fanciful and ends as anticlimactic. For most of the novel, Clem, her young protégé Blue, and her friend Day, also a chanteuse, seem to be enjoying themselves far too much for the setting.
A discordantly frothy vision of Paris’ darkest chapter.