If anyone out there is contemplating a career in Public Relations, they may well wish to reconsider after reading this book. Or certainly reconsider accepting a job putting a favourable spin on the lurid shenanigans and dodgy dealings of LA's great and good. Or great and bad, more like. 'Bad, mad and dangerous to know' indeed, to reprise Lady Caroline Lamb's astute assessment of Lord Byron.
But in what way perfume-themed, I hear you ask? Well, I suppose it would be more correct to say that Damage Control is perfume-inflected. To backtrack a bit, author Denise Hamilton is an LA-based writer, journalist and blogger, and has a perfume column in the Los Angeles Times, or did up to 2013 at least. And because she is a fumehead and 'one of us', she imbues her protagonist with a similar love of perfume. On and off through the novel Maggie will comment on her scent of the day and bottles spied on other people's dressing tables. She will score a long discontinued perfume in a thrift store, foist unsolicited decants on friends in a bid to cheer them up and/or broaden their horizons, and notice ambient smells generally.
"At a traffic light, I smelled carne asada juices dripping onto hot coals, the toxic bite of lighter fluid exploding against a match."
My favourite line in the book - and this isn't a spoiler - has to be Maggie's upbeat comment:
"I must be okay, if I can smell Chanel Sycomore." (!!)
Moreover, a particular bottle of perfume does in fact serve as a material clue in the unravelling of the plot, but I will draw a fragrant veil over that.
Now I abandoned the last perfume-themed book I didn't quite review - Chanel: An Intimate Life by Lisa Chaney - part way through, something I haven't done since I chucked a particularly impenetrable Henry James into a rubbish bin in Swindon. By contrast, I was completely swept along by Damage Control, rooting for the heroine to strip back the dizzyingly complex layers of intrigue and double dealing and work out who if any the good guys are that she can trust - also within the company she works for!
Luckily justice prevails, and the multiple pile up of damage broadly controlled, but the reader is quite exhausted by the time the nerve-racking denouement finally comes. And what I have learnt about the PR profession is that even a daily drenching in your most fortifying 'scent as armour' will not cut it, and you may need to top up with caffeine and stimulants of every stripe to get the job done.
And finally here I am, looking worryingly starry-eyed in my first ever branch of Starbucks in LA's Westwood district (in 1994). I am about to get my first fix of caffeine of the day, albeit from my beverage of choice, English Breakfast tea (or its nearest approximation).