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Book Review: The Book Of Lost Fragrances by M.J. Rose

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A deeply satisfying mixture of Ann Rice (Vampire Series, Mayfair Witches) meets Dan Brown (Da Vinci Code), in
The Book of Lost Fragrances: A Novel of Suspense, M.J. Rose crafts a tale that combines obscure history with current events into a Gothic suspense thriller in the vein of Cornell Woolrich.

It’s also a romance spanning 2,000 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 its center.

Jac L’Etoile, along with her brother, Robbie, is the heir to the famous and once profitable L’Etoile Parfumerie in France. She now lives in the U.S. and has a MythBusters-like cable TV show, having left the running of the family business to her brother. Jac is a fragile women who suffered from delusional episodes as a child after her mother’s suicide. She was treated by renown hypnotist and reincarnationist Malachai 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 soulmates 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 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 is thought to be lost to history.

What is more intriguing is that the perfume is thought to reunite reincarnated soulmates, 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 life.

In Tibet, the Chinese government not only has made being reincarnated without government approval against the law, so as to suppress the “birth” of The Panchen Lama ( 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 brainwashed the child said to be reincarnate for this purpose.

But in China, this child, called Xie Ping and educated as a calligrapher by the state, has remembered — despite the brainwashing 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, 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 Jac’s wish to sell two of the firm’s 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 soulmates. 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’s lab, trying to translate the ancient characters on the pottery, as well as find the rumored Book Of Lost Fragrances, he then disappears, leaving the would-be assassin dead on the floor.

Jac flies 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 assassins and entrepreneur, 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 soulmates. The Gothic details are vivid; the ancient mansion and the secrets it holds (both the home, boutique and perfumery of the L’Etoile), as are 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 have an irresistable alure.

There are  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 with the modern and real current world events.

Rose has entered another realm and written what is bound to be one of this year’s best books. The Book Of Lost Fragrances could be considered the fourth book in the The Reincarnationist series, along side ,The Reincarnationist, The Memorist , and The Hypnotist, but it reads 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 now.

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About The Dirty Lowdown

I was born in Pomona, California at a very young age. I had a pretty normal childhood…or I was a pretty normal child hood if mom is telling the story. I was a paperboy and washed cars. I was a soda fountain jock-jerk and a manic mechanic but my first real job was as a labor organizer in a maternity ward. Then, because of the misjudgment of a judge I spent nearly 10 years in the service of our country mostly on KP duty. Our country sure turns out a lot of dirty dishes. I am a past master at pots and pans. They eventually recognized my real talent and let me wander around some very unfriendly places carrying a big radio that didn’t work. Along the way I took up the bass guitar, jotting down stories, electronic engineering and earned a degree in advanced criminal activities. I spent most of my adult life, if you can call it that, working in the I.T. industry, which I was particularly suited for since we worked in rooms with no windows. On and off I taught in colleges, universities and reform schools as a student teacher… I like smog, traffic, kinky people, car trouble, noisy neighbors, and crowded seedy bars where I have been known to quote Raymond Chandler as pickup lines. I have always been a voracious reader, everything from the classics, to popular fiction, history to science but I have a special place in my heart for crime fiction, especially hard-boiled detective fiction and noir. I write a book and music review blog for all genres at The Dirty Lowdown. And another dedicated to Crime Fiction and all things Noir called Crimeways. It’s named after the magazine that appeared in the Kenneth Fearing classic, The Big Clock. There I write scholarly reviews of the classic hard boiled, noir and crime fiction books from the 20's through today. Mostly I drool over the salacious pictures on the covers. I also write for Tecnorati/BlogCritics where i am part of a sinister cabal of superior writers.