Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (1985)
by Patrick Susskind
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer is what you call an international hit, written in German, set in 18th century France with an entirely French speaking cast of characters, and made into a feature film by Dreamworks, directed by Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run). Unfortunately, the last and most important piece of that combination- the film by Dreamworks, was a huge bomb, and so Perfume: The Story of a Murderer has been denied the kind of eternal after life claimed by books made into hit films like the English Patient or Remains of the Day.
Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is a foundling, abandoned in 18th century Paris by a mother who is quickly executed for the infanticide of Jean's older siblings. He is raised in a tannery, where he survives against all odds and comes into possession of his greatest gift, a preternatural sense of smell. He escapes the tannery for an apprenticeship with a declining Parisian Perfumery, and the story really takes off from there. Oh- and also- Grenouille is also a murderer, fond of strangling nubile red heads.
You can't be accused of revealing that fact- since the novel does in the subtitle. The story is compelling enough, with a twist at the end, but the real attractions are the portions describing the 18th century perfume industry in France. Personally, I found this description more compelling than the story of Juan-Baptiste Grenouille, who, after all, is a murderer, and hardly a wit besides that.