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. Combining the exquisite plotting and gorgeous evocation of nature that have become his hallmark, with a wildly engrossing story of family, privilege, and childhood loss, Peter Heller gives us his finest work to date.
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Peter Heller wrote my sentimental favorite, The Dog Stars, with the precious ol' Jasper; devoted to Hig, flying the fuel restricted circumference day after day perched in the co-pilot's seat on a stack of handmade quilts. (I always think of that joke when I think of Dog Stars...*the dyslexic pilot whose co-pilot was DOG.*) Besides the sure sell of a furry character, the poetic styling, rugged outdoorsiness, the touch of philosophical pensiveness had me carrying a burning torch for Heller's zen-like edginess. And so, I devoured his next novel, The Painter, with nearly the same enthusiasm and dreamy reverie. I think Heller can thank me for selling probably a hundred copies at least of Dog Stars.
Margaret Atwood reflected on failure in an article for The Guardian: "Who set the bar so high that most of our attempts to sail gracefully over it on the viewless wings of Poesy end in an undignified scramble or a nasty fall into the mud?" After the disappointment of Celine: A Novel, I thought about Atwood's remarks, and about my disappointment with Heller's new direction -- because this felt like a set up for a series.
Celine still has some of the hallmarks of Heller's talents, his landscapes are just as vivid, and at times he hits some of the poetic prose, but overall it falls immensely short if you're comparing it to his previous works that *sailed so gracefully on the wings of Poesy.* He is in his element talking about the awe-inspiring landscapes of Yellowstone, Montana, and Wyoming. He is also in his element when he describes women -- and if you've read Heller's journalistic treatment of *grapefruit breasted* women you'll understand that concerning the female gender, the guy is leaden rather than golden. Here let's talk about the elephant in the pages...the old, wrinkly, wizened, graying senior citizen, emphysemic, "old woman" Celine. The 'ol gal is all of 67. (Hope Heller never intends on asking Christie Brinkley for a date.) Celine is the "Prada P.I," not your ordinary, uh, private dick. A haute couture doyenne sleuth that rubs elbows with international dignitaries, quotes all kinds of literature and poetry, shoots with the precision of a military marksman, drives like Mario Andretti, and has to regularly turn down the FBI...she punks Bond.
Even writing this now, I have to pause a minute and let this sink in. From The Dog Stars to this. It was almost easier to suspend belief and accept the apocalyptic world of The Dog Stars than it is to suspend belief and even fathom Heller's 67 yr. old ass-kicker with the other foot in the grave, that has to remove her oxygen mask to chase a motorcycle gang out of a pool hall. No problem for Celine -- she seems to know a secret phrase that has them all holstering their switchblades, backing down and booking out of town as fast as their hogs can carry them. (From his pen to God's ears...yoga twice a week kicks my a$$.)
"Who set the bar so high" that a fun little romp like this feels like a bit of a sell-out? Guess cynical ol' Me did. Wouldn't exactly call it a "nasty fall into the mud," I just expected so much more. Can't quite shake the feeling that Heller, seeing that Jessica Fletcher has been retired to re-runs of re-runs sees a niche. This will take some adjustment for me IF I continue to be a fan of Heller's. In retrospect, I think I'm possibly more a fan of The Dog Stars than I am of Heller's.