Aphrodesia by John Oehler ~ book review

Aphrodesia by John Oehler, book cover

I fully admit to judging books by their covers when selecting leisure reading. In the case of John Oehler’s Aphrodesia, “sexual frenzy” promises the kind of romance novel content I can really do without. Fortunately, looking at books for this blog is an objective undertaking, otherwise I would have missed this thoroughly engaging mystery novel set in a masterful rendering of the perfume industry.

The story’s protagonist is Eric Foster, the golden boy of the perfumery program at the Osmothèque’s sister school ISIPCA (Institut supérieur international du parfum, de la cosmétique et de l'aromatique alimentaire). To the envy — and alienation — of all but three of his peers, Foster is a gifted nose and a creative genius. But to the dismay of his mentor, a master perfumer who holds to the highest industry ideals, Foster’s ambition is to recreate the perfume worn by the Queen of Sheba to seduce King Solomon — an aphrodisiac, regarded as a fool's errand. Except that Foster’s formula works. But just after his classmates prove the frightening degree of its efficacy, Foster's key ingredient (spoiler: it’s oudh) is stolen from the school archives and he is expelled. Foster resigns himself to a dead-end job testing new car smell for a New York City chemical firm, until a wave of passion-fueled homicides all have one thing in common: a knockoff of his perfume.

With Aphrodesia, Oehler takes readers through both ends of the mass market perfume lab, as well as the crime lab of the NYPD, and he does it well — no small feat for someone who doesn’t have prior experience with perfume. Oehler does, however, have a science background, and is clearly no stranger to deep and diligent research. He peppers the text with smart details — like the use of argon gas to seal out oxygen in archival perfume bottles, and the price differences between natural and synthetic clove. Descriptions of raw materials are nicely restrained and never florid: shiitake mushrooms, for example, have a “dense, rich, animalic aroma much stronger than the essence of truffle.” It works to great effect, allowing the imagination to run free without tripping over odd or frequent details.

As for the book’s other components, I do love a good mystery and Aphrodesia delivers a satisfying tale of intrigue. I’m by no means a connoisseur of the genre, but the plot is compelling and solid, and the characters well-developed and believable. But given that those characters are embattled by a perfume that takes passion to murderous new heights, there is a lot of sex throughout. It’s not terribly protracted or gratuitous, at least in the sense that it builds the characters and advances the story. Personally I don’t find adult content objectionable but I don’t really care to read it, and if you're like me the good news is that it's easy to skim through the naughty bits without missing anything crucial. It's also easy to get sucked into the story and devour Aphrodesia in a day, so unless you find the plot totally off-putting this is a must-read.


Aphrodesia: A Novel of Suspense
By John Oehler. 358 pp.
CreateSpace, 2012. $13.95.

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  1. LaMaroc says:

    Interesting! Thank you for reviewing this, otherwise I would have completely missed it. With the whole “50 Shades of Gray” trend that’s going on, I by-pass the paperback section and have just been reading history and historical biography books. :P

    • Aleta says:

      Omg me too. Because of “50 Shades” this is almost more of a gem.

    • mysterious_scent says:

      I have to agree with you of this 50 shades thing! I am an avid reader but finding myself avoiding paperback sections in the bookshops!
      The other day I was so annoyed by a male co-worker who joked that since every woman was reading this book so I must be doing the same. I replied back saying I must not be a “woman”.

      Back onto the topic: Aleta, thanks for your review! I am actually half-way through reading another perfume-realted book , I can see some similarities between the two.

      • mysterious_scent says:

        Why I can’t include book name in my comment? I wanted to say I was reading The Book of Last Fragrances.

      • LaMaroc says:

        Anytime someone asks me if I’ve read “50 Shades of Gray”, I tell them no, I read the A.N. Roquelaure (Anne Rice) “Sleeping Beauty” trilogy back in high school. I think I’ve had my fill of BDSM for the rest of my life. ;)

  2. Dilana says:

    Didn’t a natural perfume company do an “authentic” Ancient Egyptian perfume for a museum in Denver several years ago?

    (P.S. The Queen of Sheba seduced Solomon (who seems to have been pretty darn quick to marry anyway), by offering the possibility of uniting their realms. ).

    • Aleta says:

      By seduce I mean seal the deal, frequently and enthusiastically. Getting to the altar is the easy part when you’re becoming one of a zillion other wives.

    • 50_Roses says:

      DSH did several Egyptian perfumes to accompany the King Tut exhibit at the Denver Art Museum.

  3. shellyw says:

    I too, would not have given this a look without a review from some place I trust such as Now Smell This. Thanks I could use some escape reading.

    • Aleta says:

      Reading this turned my brain off for a whole day, in the best possible sense. Enjoy!

  4. austenfan says:

    Did you ever read My Uncle Oswald by Roald Dahl? I wouldn’t be surprised if the author got part of his inspiration from that book. It’s quite funny, not my favourite of his though.

    • Merlin says:

      This review brought Uncle Oswald to my mind also! I think the aphrodisiac there came from a crushed insect of some sort. The premise of the plot though was totally quirky – collecting and freezing semen from the most famous men alive to later sell it for zillions. I read it years and years ago! It was slightly titillating (by todays standards very restrained) but I remember also finding it a bit tiresome…

  5. annemarie says:

    I’m not a fan of this genre either but you have won me over! Sounds terrific! So it’s on my wish list at Book Depository. (That list never seems to get any shorter … )

  6. hajusuuri says:

    I love mysteries! Thanks for review this. My library doesn’t have it but I filled out an Inter Library Loan form so hopefully I will get it in a few weeks!

  7. nozknoz says:

    Looked him up on Amazon – what an interesting background: Peace Corps Volunteer in Nepal, Ph.D. in geology and work in the petroleum industry that took him to “about fifty” countries that “fueled” his work with “quirky characters, exotic settings, and cultural contrasts.” His wife is also a scientist. I’m very glad you reviewed this because I would certainly have overlooked it, and it sounds like fun.

  8. mysterious_scent says:

    I rushed to Amazon to check this out. Rather disappointed. Probably won’t read because of the plot.
    By the way, I am really in a joyful reading with The Book of Last Fragrances.

  9. pigoletto says:

    MORE oudh? Make it stop……..

  10. Rappleyea says:

    Good review; thank you, Aleta. The book sounds interesting, although while I don’t have a problem with the sensuality, I think I’d have a problem with his premise of “perfume inspired murders”. A bit of a stretch for me.

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