Kirkus: Can perfume kill?
Scent is everything in Donnelly’s unique, voluptuous thriller. Not only does suave antihero Vic Fowler analyze the mix of odors emanating from every person and place he encounters; Donnelly’s introductory list of characters describes them in terms of their “base notes.” She opens each chapter with an analysis of its content in scent—for example, Chapter 1: “Notes de Tête: Whiskey, Jasmine, Oakmoss. Notes de Cœur: Old Cigarettes and Stale Coffee. Notes de Fond: Mildew, Charcoal, Barbicide.” The death of iconoclastic perfume magnate Jonathan Bright has left his company, Bright House, in tatters under the stewardship of Vic, his lover and protégé. Vic’s brilliant invention is a line of perfumes that allows the wearer to relive memories. Down at the heels and subletting a bas ement apartment in Harlem, Vic is determined to use his considerable charm and sex appeal to return to his former glory and exact revenge upon Joseph Eisner, the man he blames for bringing him low. As Vic is implicated in both Jonathan’s death and the disappearances of wealthy Conrad and Caroline Yates, dogged detective Pip Miles lurks in methodical pursuit of the truth. Details of those crimes are doled out in tidbits over hundreds of pages. Vic accepts a commission from Eisner to devise a fatal scent and, with an offbeat trio of sexy sidekicks—bartender, barber, and tailor—hopes to use it as the vehicle of his vengeance. Donnelly offers physical descriptions nearly as rich as the olfactory, and she colorfully depicts a pre-Covid New York City, heavy with detail and likely to trigger nostalgia. But her plot moves at a glacial pace. The question for readers to ponder: Is the journey luscious enough to mitigate a long-delayed destination?
Manhattan’s beau monde served up in juicy, evocative prose.