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Celine
Cover of Celine
Celine
A Novel
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. Inspired by the life of Heller's own remarkable mother, a chic and iconoclastic private eye, Celine is a deeply personal novel, a wildly engrossing story of family, privilege, and childhood loss. Combining the exquisite plotting and gorgeous evocation of nature that have become his hallmarks, Peter Heller gives us his finest work to date.
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. Inspired by the life of Heller's own remarkable mother, a chic and iconoclastic private eye, Celine is a deeply personal novel, a wildly engrossing story of family, privilege, and childhood loss. Combining the exquisite plotting and gorgeous evocation of nature that have become his hallmarks, Peter Heller gives us his finest work to date.
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Excerpts-
  • From the cover One


    The call had come while she was at her workbench wiring the naked taxidermic form of an ermine onto a rock, beside the skull of a crow. The plan was to have the skinless ermine looking down at his own hide tacked to the rock. Her sculpture had a distinctive dark streak. When Celine wasn't solving cases, she made pieces from anything at hand, which often involved skulls. The year before, the window washer had been fascinated by her art, which was displayed throughout the open studio, and the next day he brought her a human skull in a bucket. "Don't ask," he said. She didn't. She covered it immediately in gold leaf and it stood now on a pedestal by the front door, looking elegant.

    Now, she felt like this ermine. She felt skinned and lost, without protection.

    Her own fur had been her family. She had Hank, of course, but a son, no matter how old, was someone to be protected, not the other way around. When the phone rang, she almost didn't answer it, but then she thought it might be Pete calling from up in the Heights, needing grocery-­shopping help.

    "Hi, Celine Watkins?"

    "Yes?"

    "This is Gabriela. Gabriela Ambrosio Lamont."

    "Gabriela," she whispered, trying to place the name.

    "You don't know me. I went to Sarah Lawrence. Class of '82. I saw the story about you in the alumni magazine: 'Prada PI.' " Gabriela laughed, clear, bell-­like. Celine relaxed.

    "That was silly," Celine said. "I mean the title. I've never worn Prada in my life."

    "Chanel doesn't alliterate."

    "Right." Celine closed her eyes. The name was distinctive and it sounded familiar. Hadn't the girl had her own small story in the magazine?—­about a show of still-­life photographs in a gallery in San Francisco. Celine seemed to remember a portrait of the woman and bits of biography—­she was pretty, maybe partly Spanish. Her father had been a photographer, too, hadn't he? Famous and very charismatic. The story had interested Celine.

    "I remember you from an article."

    "Hah! The exclusive club of the alumni magazine profiles," Gabriela said.

    "Yes."

    Pause. "I hope it's okay that I called you. Out of the blue."

    "Yes, of course." Celine had been in her business a long time; she knew that nobody ever just called out of the blue. They had been on a certain trajectory for a while, they deliberated, they picked up the phone. They were like the pilots of small planes approaching an airport who call the tower, finally, for instructions to land.

    What Celine didn't know was if she had the strength. It was one year and one day after the Twin Towers had fallen. She could still almost smell the char, still see the air gritty with ash, and remember how the wind blew bits of charred financial statements and Post-­it notes across the river where they fluttered over the dock like lost confetti. She could not have imagined a sadder finale to a grim year.

    Her younger sister had died that May. She remembered how bright, how tender seemed the cottonwoods along the Big Wood River in Ketchum, Idaho, the morning Mimi left. She had helped her go—­the handful of pills, the long kiss on the cheek. How she had walked down the drive, how the leaves spun in the wind, and how when a gust came through it swept the old trees to a darker green like the hands of a harpist lifting a somber note off the strings. And then in July she got word that her older sister, Bobby, had a brain tumor. It was a flare-­up of a cancer five years in remission. Celine went to Pennsylvania to visit, to help, and there was not much to do as Bobby died within three weeks. It was almost as if the...
About the Author-
  • PETER HELLER is the best-selling author of The Painter and The Dog Stars. He holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop in both fiction and poetry. An award-winning adventure writer and a longtime contributor to NPR, Heller is a contributing editor at Outside magazine, Men's Journal, and National Geographic Adventure, and a regular contributor to Bloomberg Businessweek. He is also the author of several nonfiction books, including Kook,The Whale Warriors, and Hell or High Water: Surviving Tibet's Tsangpo River. He lives in Denver, Colorado.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    February 27, 2017
    Despite its intriguing premise, Heller’s (The Dog Stars) third novel is a missing persons mystery that never quite finds its mark. Celine, descended from the original governors of the Plymouth Colony, is a well-heeled investigator, the “Prada PI,” whose age (68) is still well below her success rate (96%). Gabriela hires her to look into the disappearance of Gabriela’s father, a famous nature photographer who years ago was presumed dead after a grizzly attack just outside of Yellowstone National Park. Agreeing with Gabriela that the death appeared staged, Celine and her husband, Pete, retired and almost as resourceful as his wife, head out West. The plucky Celine has her charms, but other characters, such as Elbie Chicksaw, the Montana tracker who studied comparative literature at Dartmouth, ring false, as does some of the dialogue: “You sound like that Neruda poem I love so.” The case slowly breaks open, but long flashbacks to Celine’s uber-WASPy childhood summers on Fishers Island, N.Y., sap the narrative of momentum, as does a subplot involving Celine’s son, who embarks on an missing persons investigation of his own in New England. The majesties and dangers of Yellowstone supply a compelling backdrop against which to set a story about “how easily parents can disappear and families fall apart,” and Heller, a gifted nature writer as well as novelist, handles certain set pieces well. But too often the novel seems lost in the wilderness. 100,000-copy announced first printing.

  • AudioFile Magazine Author Peter Heller has written a literary mystery about a peripatetic blue-blood investigator who is creative, compassionate, and a really good shot. Celine, the New York-based heroine portrayed by narrator Kimberly Farr, investigates cases that involve reuniting families. Her search for a nature photographer, presumed killed by a grizzly, takes her to the environs of Yellowstone. Farr narrates this mystery smoothly, although her cheery Midwestern voice may not be the best one for aristocratic, chic Celine, whose voice is damaged by years of smoking. This audiobook features good descriptive writing but has many backstory interruptions that slow the plot. Nonetheless, it presents a heroine sure to appeal to listeners. D.L.G. � AudioFile 2017, Portland, Maine
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    All copies of this title, including those transferred to portable devices and other media, must be deleted/destroyed at the end of the lending period.

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Celine
A Novel
Peter Heller
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