One of the main characters of my new Murders of Substance series is Dr. Kep Woodhead. He’s a forensic toxicologist in his early fifties and an expert in poisons. But the most unusual thing about him is that he’s a “supersmeller”—he can detect and specify scents far beyond the olfactory range of most humans.
Some of my early readers asked about his special ability and how I came up with the idea.
Many people are familiar with the recent spate of Sherlock Holmes TV shows and movies. One of my favorites here in the USA is Elementary, a modern day take on Sherlock set in New York, starring Jonny Lee Miller (yes, the first husband of Angelina Jolie) as Sherlock and Lucy Liu as Watson. An episode that first aired in December 2014 entitled “The Adventure of the Nutmeg Concoction” featured Sherlock getting assistance from one of his “irregulars”—consultants with strange specialties who wish to remain under the radar—known only as “The Nose.” This man identifies many smells of the titular nutmeg concoction to establish a common link to a string of murders. (My favorite line from that episode: “The nutmeg is dominant, but it’s the olfactory equivalent of a burlesque dancer.”)
I didn’t think much about it at the time, but when I had the idea for a book series based around poisoning murders, I decided to give one of the main characters a similar unusual olfactory talent.
I started researching whether or not people like this actually exist or if it’s purely in the realm of fiction, and I happened upon a few articles and videos made about George Aldrich.
Aldrich is officially a chemical specialist who works for NASA, but he’s known as their “Chief Sniffer,” a position he’s held for more than 40 years. After the Apollo 1 disaster, NASA began material testing for flammability, odor, and toxicity. Unusual smells, after all, is one of the ways people determine that something is wrong with an environment, but in a confined space, astronauts can’t be exposed to harmful odors. Bad smells can lead to congestion, headaches, nausea—and none of those are good things on the International Space Station.
In one interview, he revealed that one of the worst smells in a closed environment—even worse than human feces—is Velcro straps. “Objectionable and revolting,” according to Aldrich.
To find out all the smells that Dr. Kep Woodhead finds objectionable and revolting, be sure to read Ceremony, the first book in the Murders of Substance series. It’ll be released in four weeks. Mark your calendars for Tuesday, August 17 (or pre-order it now!).