When I was writing Blind Faith, my second stand-alone suspense novel, I quickly knew that a secondary character named Irene Danich was very fond of roses. Irene was a strong-willed woman, born in 1919 in a small Montana mining town. Irene lost both her husband and her daughter early, leaving her to raise two young granddaughters—one of whom, Carrie, is a major character with her own story line and POV. Beautiful and with a strong personal sense of style, but without a lot of money, Irene loved pretty things but was rarely able to indulge in them.
What, I wondered, was Irene’s signature scent? My own mother, a little younger than Irene, was not able to help me, and the only department store in the area with a perfume counter had closed. I remembered that a Sister in Crime, Angela Saunders, had once posted on the group message board about her love of perfume. I tracked her down and peppered her with questions.
Angie helped me focus on identifying something simple, romantic and floral that would have been available in small-town drugstores in the 1930s to 50s. Drugstore perfumes flourished in that era and some, I learned, were knock-offs of pricey Parisian scents. We settled on an eau de cologne, Yardley’s Red Roses, a good brand but not fancy, also available in soap and bath powder. She might have flirted with other brands over the years, but always returned to this one.
And oh, those lovely bottles! I remembered how much I loved my own mother’s collection, watching her choose one to wear, and being allowed to dab on a precious drop or two myself. They changed over time, and Carrie keeps three of them, each different, on a display shelf in her bungalow.
The point of the cologne was not just to characterize Irene, whom we see in action just twice, but also to characterize Carrie’s memory of Irene and of their relationship, which is pivotal. Readers can’t smell the pages, of course, and they may not have any association with a classic mid-century scent. But my hope is that the mention of it, and the reference to the bottles, will help readers create their own sense of this woman, even if the scent that emerges from their memories is nothing like what arises in mine.
Maybe you can do something similar with one of your characters. A man who wears Gray Flannel is very different from one who wears Old Spice, just as a woman who dabs on a scent created at a custom perfumerie in Paris is very different from one who gives off waves of lavender and lemon grass essential oils.
BLIND FAITH, written as Alicia Beckman, is out this week in hardcover, ebook, and audio.
Long-buried secrets come back with a vengeance in a cold case gone red-hot in Agatha Award-winning author Alicia Beckman’s second novel, perfect for fans of Laura Lippman and Greer Hendricks.
A photograph. A memory. A murdered priest.
A passion for justice.
A vow never to return.
Two women whose paths crossed in Montana years ago discover they share keys to a deadly secret that exposes a killer—and changes everything they thought they knew about themselves.
Read an excerpt and early reviews on my website.