CELINE is a gentle mystery with a 68 year old female PI on the trail of a missing person
Celine, Peter Heller
Published 2017, 334 pages
This book definitely qualifies as a cozy mystery, but not in the traditional sense of an amateur sleuth figuring out a who-done-it. A cozy mystery is typically one with a mystery at the core needing solving, usually by a heroine, but no overt violence or sex. This book checks all those boxes, BUT, the mystery doesn't revolve around a murder, but a missing person, and the heroine is no amateur, she's an experienced PI. Nonetheless, this gentle read definitely qualifies.
Much like his book The River, this novel is character driven. Celine and her Maine husband are a couple I would want to be friends with. He's the stereotypical taciturn New Englander and is in love with and still amazed by his strong, independent wife. Celine, at 68, suffers from emphysema (which figures into the plot here and there), and hates to eat vegetables. Hubby Pete is forever trying to sneak veggies into her meals to get her to eat more healthy food, which made me chuckle.
"Pete let his brown eyes fall gently on his wife. The wonderful thing about having a close and long marriage is that certain responses are as dependable as sunrise."
"Pete half smiled. It was his way of giving vigorous applause."
It's nice to see a successful marriage with a strong woman represented instead of being relegated to the support character as usual. Celine is an elegant and wealthy woman who, from a young age, insisted on forging her own way and didn't want to follow in the traditional 'little rich girl' path. She is educated, smart, speaks a couple of languages, and is compassionate or iron-willed as the situation demands. Her health impedes her sometimes, making her even more realistic.
So, Celine and Pete are hired to find a missing father and leave NYC for Yellowstone Park.
"A road trip frees the mind, revitalizes the spirit, and infuses the body with Dr Pepper and teriyaki jerky. That's what Celine had always found, and what could be better?"
Along the way, readers are given the opportunity to see how this couple travels together, who they meet along the way, and how they navigate difficult situations. This passage made me laugh out loud (my husband is a cyclist!):
"They had to wait for a table behind a group of road bikers who wore bike shoes that clumped and tight bike shorts that didn't clump nearly enough. According to Celine. 'You will never be truly happy if you wear those shorts, she said. 'You are telling your manhood that you wish he were an internal organ.'" Ha!
Celine reminds me a little of Veronica Speedwell in A Curious Beginning: strong, independent women with an insatiable urge to investigate and help. Different eras (1800s vs current day), different locales (UK vs Montana), and different ages (20 vs 60+) but the women each dominate their story.
Even though this isn't an action-packed, fast-paced mystery, the story moves steadily through the gathering of information with occasional flashbacks to fill in history. As Celine pursues her investigation, we are given many insights into her history and her investigative techniques and how she sizes people up.
"If he'd been a quilt it would look at first glance very primitive, even crazy in its pattern. But study it a little closer and one might see some fine stitching and some very curious patches. Celine began to revise her first assessment of his education."
As the case draws closer to its conclusion, there's a great page that so clearly lays out her deductive reasoning to locate the missing person. Step by step we are shown how her brain works to solve a complex puzzle. It's fabulous! I wish my brain worked like that!
While the (admittedly small) mystery is resolved, there are other plot lines that are not. Does that mean there might be a second book starring Celine and her delightful husband? Maybe. Or maybe it's just one of those books that doesn't tie every single thing up with a pretty bow. After I finished the book, I read online that the characters are loosely based on Heller and his mother and their relationship. Interesting.
If you haven't discovered Peter Heller yet, I highly recommend that you find a book and give it a try. If you have, did you enjoy it? Tell me what you've read in the comments so I can pick that one up too.
I just listened to an interview with Heller conducted by Anne Bogel on Modern Mrs Darcy for the book club. It was fascinating, primarily because I learned that Celine is totally his mom. All her charming characteristics and back story are true. Her husband's name is really Pete and he is Maine-born. She was a crack PI and reunited over 100 families, all pro bono. Really, the case she's working on is the only fictionalized part of the book!
Heller also talked about his writing habits. He explained that he doesn't plot out a story. He sits quietly until he 'hears' a first line.....like music. He writes for the "music of the language" and listens for that sound of the first line, then the next, etc. He writes 1000 words a day, every day. He doesn't self-edit as he goes along, he just writes where the characters lead him. (Amazing!) He writes with the wilderness almost as a character in his stories because he loves nature and being outside and wants to share that connection.
photos by Pedro Sandrini @pexels.com; Lk Tahoe, NV & Mt Rainier, WA, by Terrie Purkey; typewriter by Suzy Hazelwood, pexels