Upon discovery of a flower that makes men fall madly in love, the U.S. government attempts to use its essence for interrogation purposes. But nature fights back.
According to Cherokee legend, a flower exists whose perfume causes men to fall passionately in love with whichever woman is in closest proximity. Its actual smell, however, is undetectable to the male olfactory senses. Only Native American princesses can sniff out the so-called mating flower’s scent. Due to the plant’s manipulative effects on human behavior, the U.S. Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency launches an investigation into using its chemical properties as an interrogation tool. John Howell from the Office of Naval Research contracts plant epigeneticist Victoria Banks, cryptologist Sharon McDougall and perfumer Flynn Calhoun to research, extract and synthesize a product the government can use during wartime. But harnessing smell is a tricky business and an accidental emission in the lab complicates working relationships. Meanwhile, the flower is also used to solve a local crime and, later, bust a drug ring. The notion of using nature to manipulate nature is intriguing, especially in the mystery genre, where the idea has the potential to generate complex plots and sub-plots. But the book fails to construct a true mystery. There is a decided lack of suspense and Callaway’s characters spend a lot of time regurgitating clinical, pedantic facts; this heavy-handed clue dropping leaves little to the imagination. Instead of doling out hints to maintain tension, interest and pacing, evidence is delivered in quick, clunky paragraphs full of scientific jargon better suited to a medical journal. What gives this book potential also poses a problem to character development: the flower’s immediate potency prevents relationships from building. Instead, love matches burst into unsatisfying, unromantic existence. A single moment of passion would be a more realistic result than the long-term coupling Callaway affects. The book would also benefit from copyediting to catch redundancies, smooth unnatural dialogue and flesh out meager side stories.
Lacks the suspense expected in a murder mystery.