Excerpt from Perfume by Patrick Suskind, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Story of a Murderer

by Patrick Suskind

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  • First Published:
    Jun 1987, 361 pages
    Feb 2001, 272 pages

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Tumult and turmoil. The crowd stands in a circle around her, staring, someone hails the police. The woman with the knife in her hand is still lying in the street. Slowly she comes to.

What has happened to her?


What is she doing with that knife?


Where does the blood on her skirt come from?

"From the fish."

She stands up, tosses the knife aside, and walks off to wash.

And then, unexpectedly, the infant under the gutting table begins to squall. They have a look, and beneath a swarm of flies and amid the offal and fish heads they discover the newborn child. They pull it out. As prescribed by law, they give it to a wet nurse and arrest the mother. And since she confesses, openly admitting that she would definitely have let the thing perish, just as she had with those other four by the way, she is tried, found guilty of multiple infanticide, and a few weeks later decapitated at the place de Gr?ve.

By that time the child had already changed wet nurses three times. No one wanted to keep it for more than a couple of days. It was too greedy, they said, sucked as much as two babies, deprived the other sucklings of milk and them, the wet nurses, of their livelihood, for it was impossible to make a living nursing just one babe. The police officer in charge, a man named La Fosse, instantly wearied of the matter and wanted to have the child sent to a halfway house for foundlings and orphans at the far end of the rue Saint-Antoine, from which transports of children were dispatched daily to the great public orphanage in Rouen. But since these convoys were made up of porters who carried bark baskets into which, for reasons of economy, up to four infants were placed at a time; since therefore the mortality rate on the road was extraordinarily high; since for that reason the porters were urged to convey only baptized infants and only those furnished with an official certificate of transport to be stamped upon arrival in Rouen; since the babe Grenouille had neither been baptized nor received even so much as a name to inscribe officially on the certificate of transport; since, moreover, it would not have been good form for the police anonymously to set a child at the gates of the halfway house, which would have been the only way to dodge the other formalities . . . thus, because of a whole series of bureaucratic and administrative difficulties that seemed likely to occur if the child were shunted aside, and because time was short as well, officer La Fosse revoked his original decision and gave instructions for the boy to be handed over on written receipt to some ecclesiastical institution or other, so that there they could baptize him and decide his further fate. He got rid of him at the cloister of Saint-Merri in the rue Saint-Martin. There they baptized him with the name Jean-Baptiste. And because on that day the prior was in a good mood and the eleemosynary fund not yet exhausted, they did not have the child shipped to Rouen, but instead pampered him at the cloister's expense. To this end, he was given to a wet nurse named Jeanne Bussie who lived in the rue Saint-Denis and was to receive, until further notice, three francs per week for her trouble.


A few weeks later, the wet nurse Jeanne Bussie stood, market basket in hand, at the gates of the cloister of Saint-Merri, and the minute they were opened by a bald monk of about fifty with a light odor of vinegar about him-Father Terrier-she said "There!" and set her market basket down on the threshold.

"What's that?" asked Terrier, bending down over the basket and sniffing at it, in the hope that it was something edible.

"The bastard of that woman from the rue aux Fers who killed her babies!"

Excerpted from Perfume by Patrick Suskind Copyright © 2001 by Patrick Suskind. Excerpted by permission of Vintage, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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