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The Perfume Thief: A Novel (Paperback)
A stylish, sexy page-turner set in Paris on the eve of World War II, where Clementine, a queer American ex-pat and notorious thief, is drawn out of retirement and into one last scam when the Nazis invade.
"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
Clementine is a seventy-two-year-old reformed con artist with a penchant for impeccably tailored suits. Her life of crime has led her from the uber-wealthy perfume junkies of belle epoque Manhattan, to the scented butterflies of Costa Rica, to the spice markets of Marrakech, and finally the bordellos of Paris, where she settles down in 1930 and opens a shop bottling her favorite extracts for the ladies of the cabarets.
Now it's 1941 and Clem's favorite haunt, Madame Boulette's, is crawling with Nazis, while Clem's people—the outsiders, the artists, and the hustlers who used to call it home—are disappearing. Clem's first instinct is to go to ground—it's a frigid Paris winter and she's too old to put up a fight. But when the cabaret's prize songbird, Zoe St. Angel, recruits Clem to steal the recipe book of a now-missing famous Parisian perfumer, she can't say no. Her mark is Oskar Voss, a Francophile Nazi bureaucrat, who wants the book and Clem's expertise to himself. Hoping to buy the time and trust she needs to pull off her scheme, Clem settles on a novel strategy: Telling Voss the truth about the life and loves she came to Paris to escape.
Complete with romance, espionage, champagne towers, and haute couture, this full-tilt sensory experience is a dazzling portrait of the underground resistance of twentieth-century Paris and a passionate love letter to the power of beauty and community in the face of insidious hate.
About the Author
TIMOTHY SCHAFFERT is the author of five previous novels: The Swan Gondola, The Coffins of Little Hope, Devils in the Sugar Shop, The Singing and Dancing Daughters of God, and The Phantom Limbs of the Rollow Sisters. He is a professor of English and Director of Creative Writing at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and he writes the column "The Eccentricities of Gentlemen" for the popular lifestyle magazine Enchanted Living.
A LOS ANGELES TIMES TOP 10 BEST BOOK OF THE SUMMER • Named a Top 10 Historical Fiction Novel by CrimeReads
"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
"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 m. danforth, author of The Miseducation of Cameron Post and Plain Bad Heroines
“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 The Guncle and Lily and the Octopus
"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
“An exceptional novel told in an extraordinary voice, that’s also a hell of a yarn. The Perfume Thief is about finding beauty at the most difficult times--in the walls of your room, inside your closets, and in those you love. What more could you want?”–Elizabeth McCracken, author of Bowlaway
"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
"Vivid and striking. . . Small acts of bravery during the Resistance may be less known, but this novel gives imagination to the courage of queer lives during the Occupation. Clem embodies the wisdom of a fully-rendered life, filled with deception, compassion, and transformation. A luminous character invented to populate the queer history that was lost."—Lambda Literary
"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
“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