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Celine: A novel by Peter Heller

Celine: A novel (2017)

by Peter Heller

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Celine Watkins is no Miss Marple, her age (68) and her ability to unravel mysteries being among the few similarities. The protagonist in Peter Heller's “Celine” is a tall, elegant, uppercrust woman who looks like she could be a former supermodel. Instead she's a private investigator specializing in reuniting families. It is a personal crusade for her, for she doesn't need the money. As a teenager she had a baby taken away from her. The whereabouts of her daughter is one mystery she has never been able to solve.

Now she is hired by Gabriela, whose father, a National Geographic photographer, disappeared in Yellowstone two decades earlier, supposedly the victim of a bear. But that explanation has always seemed fishy, and now Gabriela wants to learn the truth.

So Celine and Pete, her husband, head west to Yellowstone. This isn't ideal territory for Celine to operate in because of its high altitude. She was a heavy smoker for 30 years and suffers from emphysema. She carries oxygen with her for emergencies, of which there are plenty in the mountains.

The mystery deepens when it becomes apparent that a man, a former military sniper, is following them. If the missing man wasn't killed by a bear, did he run away to escape Gabriela's oppressive stepmother or, as the presence of the sniper suggests, is there something else going on?

Heller's frequent flashbacks filling in details about Celine's past soon get bothersome, interfering with the flow of the narrative. Still they give depth to the character and to the novel itself, so readers should just slow down and enjoy an unusual and exceptional mystery. ( )
  hardlyhardy | Jun 4, 2018 |
Celine is an elegant woman, in her late 60s, who works as a private investigator. Her specialty is missing persons, and she is assisted by her kind, patient husband, Hank. She is approached by a young woman, named Gabriela, who is trying to track her father down. He disappeared from Montana, twenty years earlier.
There is a lot of back story here, as we draw parallels, between Celine's past and Gabriela's. Both women have suffered losses.
I loved Heller's first two novels, The Dog Stars and The Painter but this one never really came together for me. I did not find the back stories particularly interesting and the characters were somewhat flat. When the narrative stuck to the current plot, it worked best and I loved his descriptions of Yellowstone and the great outdoors. This is where Heller shines. A bit of a miss for me, but I will still look forward to seeing what he does next.

**As a bonus, O-Six, from American Wolf is mentioned here. ( )
  msf59 | Apr 1, 2018 |
In her late 60s, Celine Watkins is still one of the best private investigators out there, a tough, plain-spoken lady with loads of experience whose success rate of 96 percent has caught the attention of the FBI and brought her unwanted offers of employment. But Celine likes being her own boss and would rather work her missing-person cases solo (or with her husband Pete), and since she hails from a well-heeled east-coast family, she doesn’t need the money. Celine and her sisters Bobby and Mimi were brought up by their mother, their philandering father being absent most of the time. It was a mostly happy upbringing that included trips abroad, private school and university, but fifty years later she still mourns that paternal absence. So when a young woman named Gabriela approaches her asking for help locating her missing father, Celine cannot find it in herself to say no. Gabriela’s story is a tragic one: her beautiful mother died young, dragged out to sea by a rogue wave, and her handsome father, Paul Lamont—a talented nature photographer whose work regularly appeared in National Geographic—never recovered, subsequently abandoning Gabriela twice: the first time by marrying again and becoming a drunk, and the second time by vanishing into the wilds of Yellowstone Park. Since the investigators at the time concluded he was killed by a bear and his body eaten, Lamont’s disappearance is the coldest of cold cases. But a few of the details don’t add up, and when Celine tracks down some local folks who helped the original investigative team, they express doubts about how the search was conducted and the conclusions reached. Digging deeper, Celine discovers that despite these doubts, official pressure exerted from somewhere on high resulted in the case being declared closed. Sensing a cover up, and in defiance of tangible danger, Celine digs deeper still. Heller has written an engaging and complex tale with many intriguing and unusual characters. Celine herself is a great eccentric, a beneficiary of old New England money who found her talent and turned her back on a privileged life of leisure in order to make herself useful and change peoples’ lives. As much as we like her and root for her, however, a question of plausibility remains. There's no doubt that an older woman can be competent and daring and resourceful and a good shot. But she is so very competent in so many ways, and so extremely resourceful in every situation, and so absolutely fearless no matter what the threat, and such a good shot, especially when it matters most, that the reader’s eyebrows will get a good workout with all the upward motion. Peter Heller, a contributor to magazines like Outdoor and National Geographic Adventure, rarely passes up a chance to describe the natural world eloquently and in detail, but unfortunately at the very point we expect the story to pick up steam, when Celine and Pete hit the trail in search of Lamont, the narrative actually loses momentum, frequently slowing down to observe the light slanting through the trees and take note of the smells and sounds of the forest. Make no mistake, all of this is done in a thoughtful and intelligent manner. The mystery is intricate and compelling on multiple levels and the story is never less than enjoyable. But anyone picking up Celine expecting a tightly plotted detective thriller will likely be disappointed by what is essentially a character-driven literary novel constructed around a decades-old disappearance. ( )
  icolford | Dec 25, 2017 |
Wonderful read! Perhaps the plot is a bit unbelievable, but the characters and locations are done quite well. The detail is remarkable, many of the vignettes could lead off onto their own stories. The author did a great job on keeping all the many details straight and clear. I do have a quibble with the use of the word ma'am being a big clue to a military background, I think the author would find it common with people originating in Loiusiana. ( )
  MM_Jones | Oct 29, 2017 |
Celine, modeled after the author's mother, is not your average PI. Raised in Paris and New York, Celine is elegant and aristocratic yet willing to get her hands dirty. She and Paul, her husband/partner in crime, take on a case of a missing person. Gabriela, the client, suspects that her father, Lamont, is alive even though he was declared dead over 20 years ago even though no body was ever found. The case takes Celine and Paul to Yellowstone Park where Lamont went missing. Expert sleuthing uncovers that Lamont, a famous photographer for National Geographic, has been in hiding due to compromising photographs he took during a coup in Chile. The photographs have never surfaced which has kept Lamont alive and holed up in the mountains. Reuniting children with their birth parents has been of special interest to Celine and two other side stories with this theme are explored. ( )
  KatherineGregg | Sep 24, 2017 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0451493893, Hardcover)

From the best-selling author of The Dog Stars and The Painter, a luminous, masterful novel of suspense--the story of Celine, an elegant, aristocratic private eye who specializes in reuniting families, trying to make amends for a loss in her own past.

Working out of her jewel box of an apartment at the base of the Brooklyn Bridge, Celine has made a career of tracking down missing persons, and she has a better record at it than the FBI. But when a young woman, Gabriela, asks for her help, a world of mystery and sorrow opens up. Gabriela's father was a photographer who went missing on the border of Montana and Wyoming. He was assumed to have died from a grizzly mauling, but his body was never found. Now, as Celine and her partner head to Yellowstone National Park, investigating a trail gone cold, it becomes clear that they are being followed--that this is a case someone desperately wants to keep closed. Combining the exquisite plotting and gorgeous evocation of nature that have become his hallmark, with a wildly engrossing story of family, privilege, and childhood loss, Peter Heller gives us his finest work to date.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 19 Sep 2016 15:14:06 -0400)

"From the best-selling author of The Dog Stars and The Painter, a luminous, spine-tingling novel of suspense--the story of Celine, an elegant, aristocratic private eye who specializes in reuniting families, trying to make amends for a loss in her own past"--… (more)

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