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Book review: Don't underestimate the power of a PI in Peter Heller's 'Celine'

Posted March 16

"CELINE," Peter Heller, Knopf, $25.95, 336 pages (f)

Peter Heller’s latest novel “Celine” features an unlikely protagonist who defies social stereotypes and norms. Celine is a 69-year-old private investigator who was raised among the social elite. Her unusual background and keen intelligence give her a chameleon-like ability to move among the wealthy as well as the humblest of people. PI work isn’t her only passion; she is also a talented, if slightly morbid, artist with an eye for the unusual.

The novel starts a year after the terrorists attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, when the entire country was still suffering from shock and loss. Celine and her husband, Pete, are no different. They have lived a quiet life ever since to allow themselves time to come to grips with the changes in the world.

But when Celine is contacted by a beautiful woman searching for answers about her father’s death, Celine can’t help but take the case. Gabriella’s father, a famous photographer who worked for National Geographic in the 1970s, was killed in a bear attack in Yellowstone National Park 26 years ago. A body was never found and the evidence doesn’t add up. With a shared history of abandonment, Celine and Gabriella form a bond that fuels an intense search.

Heller’s characters are unusual, with rich depth and insight. Celine presents a mystery in and of herself. As Celine travels across the country to solve a years-old case, her son tries to put together the puzzle of Celine’s past. Even her own husband doesn’t know the whole truth behind her unique skill set and mysterious propensity for a cool head in dangerous situations.

Quirky characters and witty dialogue drive an intriguing plot. However, there is strong language throughout the book, especially in the last half as Celine encounters characters from all walks of life. There is also mild violence, but no sexual content.

Stacey L. Nash is a freelance writer/blogger and full-time kid wrangler. Website: staceylnashwrites.com

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