Celine is nearly 70. She’s an elegant woman with an excellent education and a mastery of her native French. She enjoys a quiet life with her husband, Pete—he cooks, she sculpts. Sometimes she calls her grown son on the phone and mildly lectures him about his love life. Oh, and Celine is also a private detective, once recruited by the FBI, and she occasionally takes a case that requires her and Pete to pack up their tracking equipment and cameras and take off across the globe to solve a mystery that’s been eluding traditional law enforcement. In those cases, Celine’s weapons training comes in handy.
The mystery at the heart of this story revolves around a young woman, Gabriela, whose father, a charismatic and complicated nature photographer, disappeared mysteriously when she was young. When Celine and Pete take her case, they find themselves traveling to Yellowstone National Park. They dress like hunters and frequent small diners, talking to locals and trying to unravel a case that’s long since been declared closed, inadvertently triggering the attention of powerful people who want to keep it that way.
In Celine, author Peter Heller tells an excellent story and creates a mystery that’s gripping and ultimately satisfying. He’s a master at describing the wonder and beauty of the natural world and at making setting and community an integral part of his stories. But even more noteworthy is his understanding of human frailties and the triumph of family relationships—Celine’s relationships with both Pete and her son are flawed but still loving and beautiful, and her relationship to herself as she ages is honest, illuminating and, ultimately, inspiring.
Celine is packed with details—there are bear attacks, a gold-digging nurse, an emphysemic sharpshooter and senior citizens who live in a camper van—but every bit feels authentic and true. All the elements move the story along; for the reader, nothing is wasted and every moment is made to be savored and enjoyed.