2017-10-05 / Opinions

Book Review

Celine
By PETER HELLER
Reviewed by
PEGGY BARNETT

Celine Watkins is a private detective. She is brilliant at her work, knowledgeable about guns, an excellent shot, and given to seeing clues other do not see. However, in addition to those qualities, she also has many qualities that we mystery fans are not used to: she is a successful sculptor of bizarre figures, she is from a prominent New England family, and she is in her 70s with an emphysema problem.

Celine, a New Yorker, has lost both of her sisters in the year that the twin towers came down, and she is not looking for another case. She receives a call from a young woman named Gabriela, who gets her attention because she is a fellow Sarah Lawrence graduate. Gabriela’s story is intriguing. She and her parents were enjoying a day at Big Sur when she was eight years old. Her mother was swept out to sea by an errant wave, but her father was able to save Gabriela, at the cost of not saving his beloved wife.

Her father was never the same. He remarried – a very different woman who insisted that Gabriela live in a different apartment where she often had to cook her own meals. After a number of years, her father (a photographer for National Geographic) disappeared on a western assignment, said to have been killed by a grizzly bear. Gabriela doesn’t believe the story and wants help.

Somewhat to her own surprise, Celine begins the investigation. Her husband (who seldom talks but always has something pertinent to say when he does) joins her in a trip to Montana and Wyoming. They live in a camper borrowed from her son Hank (another good guy), asking questions. As they journey, they realize that they are being followed and watched by a very capable-looking man; a contact of Celine’s identifies him as a former Seal sniper. The puzzle becomes more and more complex, even frightening, as they interview a park ranger and the sheriff who were there when Paul Lamont disappeared and track down the tracker and bar owners who knew him. They are not sure who is involved in their search, or if they and Gabriela back in New York are in danger.

Meanwhile, Keller tells stories of Celine’s early life, and we learn about her alcoholism and a mystery about her that even her son does not know. That mystery may have something to do with her willingness to take on impossible-sounding cases. She is a charming character, full of derring-do and wit. We want her to succeed for her sake as well as Gabriela’s.

This is Peter Keller’s third novel. He knows how to build suspense, and some descriptive passages are delightful: “The season had turned: The swaths of aspen on the shoulders of the mountains were yellow and in the windless hours of the morning single leaves spun straight to the ground…. The high ledges were limned in ice, the gullies etched, the hanging glaciers dazzled.”

Celine is available at the Mary Willis Library.

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