In this book, Peter Heller has created one of my favorite literary heroines. Celine Watkins is a 69-year-old private investigator, born into East Coast money, fluent in French, educated at prep school and Sarah Lawrence College. Still reeling from the loss of both of her sisters and the destruction of the Twin Towers, she is not sure that she is ready to take on another case. However, when she gets a call from Gabriela Lamont asking if she can find her long-missing father, Celine is unable to walk away. And thus begins an adventure in the wilds of Wyoming, as Celine and her husband Pete borrow a camper and drive off to track down Nick Lamont. Naturally, the case is more complicated than it seems, and Celine and Pete encounter a military sniper, a biker gang, a Latvian immigrant, and other colorful characters as they try to unravel the mystery of Nick’s disappearance.
Celine is about the most unlikely sleuth you could imagine, but that’s her charm. Petite and cosmopolitan, she’s always underestimated by others. Her husband Pete is the perfect foil for her: a taciturn Maine man, he makes sure Celine doesn’t overdo it (she has emphysema), tries to get her to eat vegetables (she refuses), and always offers keen insight into the case. The two are bound by their mutual eccentricities and an abiding love, and their interactions are a delight to read.
Heller’s descriptions of the Wyoming landscape left me with a real sense of its grandeur. Being an adventure writer, he certainly knows his subject matter. I’d say that this book is literary fiction first, mystery second — and that’s fine with me. His adept use of language and insight into human relationships makes Celine a pleasure to read. I’m hoping for another literary adventure with this irrepressible pair!