Sunday, August 27, 2017


What did I think of Celine, by Peter Heller? It's a 2017 release by a Colorado author.

In a word, ARRGGHHH!

It was so frustrating because the premise was fabulous, the setting sublime, some of the writing pretty good, but there were so many problems with this book that I ended up giving it only 2 stars on GoodReads.

Here's the Amazon blurb:
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.
Great premise, right? Great setting, right? I love both Yellowstone and NYC. And a non-traditional private eye is always good, right?

My biggest problem with the novel is that I really didn't like Celine very much. I didn't believe in her as a character--way too perfect.  Celine is basically Nancy Reagan turned Nancy Drew.

In addition to having nerves of steel, a gut she can rely on to steer her towards the right answer, and a brilliant mind, she is successful artist (marrying "beauty with death") and a strong swimmer and sailor. She is also elegant, petite, beautifully mannered, poised. Even when Heller tried to give her some faults, he managed to make them annoyingly perfect. She's not just an alcoholic--she's the one in AA who everyone wants to be their sponsor.  Yes, she has emphysema from smoking, but her lungs clear when she is focused on solving a case.

And she is in love with guns. I could forgive her for everything else but I cannot forgive her for lusting, literally lusting, after everything from an antique Colt to semi-automatic weapons. Heller teases the reader by withholding the part of her backstory that explains why she is such a crack shot--I smell a series in the making--but I found her fondling of firearms to be nauseating. And she's a PI who specializes in reuniting birth parents/children--not exactly the type of work that requires the guns that she and her husband tote all over the country.

The narrator insists on how smart and saavy Celine is, but by my reckoning her husband, Pete (aka Pa) actually figured out most of the case and left out-shooting a former Navy SEAL (give me a break!) to his wife. Apparently, Celine has a better track record than the FBI, but based on the actual detective work on evidence in Celine, I don't buy it.

Oh, and there's a particularly ridiculous scene in which Celine confronts a group of Sons of Silence bikers in a bar and makes them whimper out the door. It truly reminded me of the movie Every Which Way But Loose and the scene with the Black Widow gang.

The Black Widows - Every Which Way But Loose

The best thing about Celine is Heller's description of Yellowstone as Celine and Pete drive around while they try to figure out how to find out if Gabriela's father is actually dead or not.  This made me really want to go back up to Yellowstone, one of my favorite places on Earth!

Apparently, Heller has been enormously successful with his two previous novels,  The Dog Stars and The Painter.  For me, I think Celine would have benefited enormously from severe editing. The problem with being a best-selling author is that I think that success makes them eschew a good editing.

It's really a shame because this could've been such a great book....ARRGGHH!


  1. I agree that the premise of the book sounds intriguing. Too bad that it was disappointing.

    I agree that characters that are too virtuous are boring and do not make great characters.

  2. I agree if you don't bond with the detective in a mystery novel (and particularly a mystery series) the book itself not worth reading Good point too about how an editor could have caught some of this.

  3. She does seem a bit Nancy Drew-ish. Why the Nancy Reagan however? Did she just say "NO" to alcohol? Or does she have a fabulous wardrobe?

    Interesting that this is the second time in three days that Peter Heller has popped up on my radar, the first being a podcast where The Dog Stars was highly lauded but after looking at some goodreads reviews, I am not sure if his writing style is for me.

    Thanks for the blast from the past to Every Which Way But Loose. I haven't seen it since, but I LOVED that movie as a kid!

    1. Nancy Reagan was petite, well turned out, and fairly steely. I was trying to think who I would cast as Celine, and Nancy Reagan popped into my head.

  4. Oh, no! That's too bad. Celine doesn't sound like a character I'd like very much either.

  5. That is a shame - the premise does sound fantastic. It's hard though when the character does not live up to expectation or just plan unbelievable. Great review.

  6. Oh no! Sounds dreadful! I had high hopes for this one but I think I will take it off my list. I had read his two earlier novels & liked them enough (though a bit macho-ism in both) but they were suspenseful. This one sounds blech. Thanks for letting me know. I will take a pass. I'm glad you warned me. Too bad for Yellowstone!