“The Perfume Collector” by Kathleen Tessaro is an entertaining novel that resonates with the history of perfume and The Jazz Age. The story begins in 1927 in New York City, where 14-year-old orphan Eva d’Orsey is working as a domestic.
Eva has been told never to accept gifts from any of the guests, but she is to honor their requests no matter how strange. Most importantly she is never to gossip about anything she observes. The Warwick guests are the rich and famous.
Twenty-eight years later, in 1955, Grace Monroe, newly married into the upper-class social circles of London, receives a letter from an attorney in Paris, informing her she has just inherited a fortune from a woman named Eva d’Orsey. Grace has never heard of the woman and is certain the attorney has contacted the wrong person. The attorney explains that she really should come to Paris as the will stipulates that Grace receive the inheritance in person and on her own. He sends her an airplane ticket.
The bequest has come on the heels of Grace’s discovery of her ambitious husband’s infidelity. Feeling lonely and adrift, she decides to travel to Paris to see about the inheritance, which includes the proceeds from the sale of an apartment and a large portfolio of stocks. Grace finds new purpose in her desire and attempt to learn more about Eva, to understand why she has been named her sole heir. When Grace arrives in Paris the attorney, M. Edouard Tissot, takes her under his wing. Since Grace will not sign anything until she knows more about Eva, he agrees to help Grace in her investigation of her mysterious benefactor.
The intersection of these two stories and the connection between the lives of Eva and Grace are explored through the story of three scents and how the scents developed. Suspense builds as Grace investigates Eva’s past. The author researched carefully and includes as a character the historical figure Madame Zed, a Russian perfumer who is credited for creating scents such as Mon Peche and Arpege for Jeanne Lanvin’s company.
The novel then slips back and forth from 1927 to 1955 as Eva’s story unfolds, shifting from 1920s New York to 1930s Monte Carlo to 1950s London and Paris. M. Tissot and Grace discover that Eva had tough choices to make that resulted in some regrets. Eva has written her will, leaving everything to Grace, on the condition that Grace receive the inheritance in her own right. She wants Grace to have the power to make her own choices and be the person she was really meant to be.
This hauntingly beautiful novel brings the sights and smells of Paris to life. The author presents an interesting look at the creation of perfume and how a scent can “trigger” memories.