reviewed by Fiona Cook
Base notes, in the fragrance world, act as a foundation – rich, heavy, and long-lasting, they convey the main message of a perfume. It’s appropriate then, as the title for the latest offering from Lara Elena Donnelly, because this is a book that will certainly live on in the minds of its readers, long after they turn the final page.
Vic Fowler is drowning in debt and in dreams. Despite landing the title to an up-and-coming perfume house, following the mysterious disappearance of the owner, Vic just can’t seem to break in to the old-boy network that sits as a barrier to true success. Usually, that’s just the kind of problem Vic’s learnt to solve with the odd, very discrete, murder-for-hire, but an old client with an impossible request is suddenly threatening everything they’ve worked so hard for.
This book was absolutely brilliant. Base Notes is absolutely going to attract comparisons to Patrick Süskind’s Perfume, but in my opinion blows it completely out of the water. It’s not just the updated social commentary, skewering modern social issues such as inequality and desperation, or the skillful work with the characters that won me over so completely; it’s the way the gritter, rougher moments are highlighted by the gorgeous descriptive prose of symphonies and rainy afternoons in New York. Vic is such an intriguing, even endearing character, that you almost forget the whole murder part until the novel shocks you back to remembering just who it is you’re thinking fondly of.
It’s not every day that you read a book that simultaneously sucks you in completely, and is so effective at delivering shock moments without in anyway disrupted the flow of reading. I could almost hear Vic’s narration, and again; it’s a long time since I’ve read a protagonist I was so immediately able to conjure a voice for. This may well be a one-shot, but should a sequel ever appear, I’ll be back for more in a heartbeat. Base Notes will be kicking off 2022 with a bang.
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