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, but let us try nonetheless. Set in the German-occupied Paris of 1941, The Perfume Thief is the story of a queer American expat named Clementine who, after a life of notorious thievery all over the globe (think Robin Hood meets Indiana Jones), has retired in Paris and become a perfumer for the ladies of Madame Boulette’s cabaret.
At 72 years old, Clementine, or Clem, believes she is too old to pull off any scams, especially one that involves fooling the Nazis. But that is exactly what she gets roped into doing when Clem’s friend Zoé St. Angel recruits her to steal the infamous diary and recipe book of the Parisian perfumer Pascal, who has gone missing. Not only does this diary reveal Zoé’s identity as a Jew, but it also might include concoctions that could be used as biological weapons by the Nazis. And so, Clem sets out to enchant and fool Francophile Nazi bureaucrat Oskar Voss in order to retrieve the sought-after book.
It’s a thrill to be in Clem’s mind, to follow along as she sinks deeper and deeper into this mystery, as she worries about how to keep her loved ones safe, as she describes the City of Light crawling with Germans and as she reminisces about a long-ago love that still strikes a chord. 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.