From the best-selling author of The Dog Stars and The Painter, a luminous, masterful novel of suspensethe 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 followedthat 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.
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.
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Excerpted from "Celine"
Copyright © 2018 Peter Heller.
Excerpted by permission of Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.
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Reading Group Guide
The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group’s discussion of Celine, a suspenseful and heartrending story of one woman’s quest to heal broken families—including her own—through her work as a private investigator.
1. What tone does the opening scene of the book set for the rest of the story, in both establishing the atmosphere and its main themes and characters?
2. How did the interweaving of Celine’s backstory with that of Paul’s and his family’s create tension and momentum as you read?
3. Discuss the different, and even opposite, sides of Celine’s and Pete’s personalities—their hard-edged, more masculine sides and their softer, artistic, and sensitive sides. How do their careers allow both of those sides to prosper, and what does their unique relationship suggest about what they love about each other?
4. How does the couple balance out each other’s strengths and weaknesses to make for an effective partnership at home and in work? Does either of them seem more dominant in either space?
5. How does Celine’s complicated experience with motherhood motivate her work as a private investigator? Did you feel that that blurring of professional and personal lines enhanced or hindered her relationship with her clients—especially with Gabriela?
6. Celine imagines that for Gabriela home is a "space within the relative safety of her own skin." Celine may share this sensibility to some degree. Which of her actions, tendencies, and memories in the book are most reflective of this very private and self-protective mindset?
7. How does an urban versus a rural setting bring out different sides of different characters, especially Celine’s? Can you track a progression of what kinds of places they settle in depending on their moods and mindsets, or is their mood more affected by where they are at any given time?
8. What service does Celine offer her clients on a more psychological level, beyond her unearthing of the facts of certain mysteries in their lives? Do you think she absorbs their secrets and suffering, and, if so, how does that motivate her to continue to the next case, even at the age of sixty-eight?
9. How does Hank take up the work of emotional excavation and investigation on his mother, perhaps work she’s unable to do herself? What does this suggest about our abilities to confront our own pasts with clear eyes?
10. What do all of the characters’ secrets, revealed to us gradually throughout the book, have in common? How do the characters differ in the steps they have to take to discover their own truths?
11. Although Celine’s role as a mother is a paramount focus of the book, what did you also take away from reading about the complicated role of fathers in their children’s lives? Do you think that Celine or Hank has more in common with Gabriela in this sense?
12. When Celine considers Paul’s circumstances for disappearing and leaving Gabriela, she displays a great deal of compassion—something that’s key to why she’s a good investigator. How do you think she’s been able to channel that in spite of all that she experienced as a child?
13. The book makes the case that the world feels different after the 9/11 attacks, and also uses the grandeur of nature to indicate the smallness of humanity. Did you feel at the end of the book that ultimately humanity’s preservation was worth the effort despite these perspectives? What do those scales of comparison illustrate about how we understand our own power in the universe? Which characters are most accepting of that balance in the novel?
14. What sacrifices does Celine make for her clients, especially for Paul in regard to his involvement in the Chilean coup? Do you think they’re grateful for what she does?
15. Think about your own family and how you have dealt, individually and collectively, with secrets and difficult times. How would things have been different for your family if the losses Paul and Gabriela faced transpired for you? Could you empathize with either or both of them?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This author creates these amazing and flawed characters that stay with you long after the book is read. The only issue I have with this book is that I did not want it to end and that I wished it was much longer than 275 pages. Go read all of his fiction works.
A great read. He gets the men right, he gets the women right, he gets the pacing right, he gets the storytelling right. Compelling mystery, compelling family story and a satisfying but not fairytale ending because some things can be unveiled and understood but cannot be fixed.
I thought this was a detective story, but chatter about her semi regal past, her family and odds and ends. Got to my usual decision point at page 100 and gave up. Wonder if she ever did any detecting? Waste of time and money.
I Just Don't Get It. The main character is boring and artificial. Her husband/investigative partner is the same. This is a mystery? Not! We learn about their lives & then we learn more about their lives & we watch them go camping & drink coffee or tea & there is almost no progress on solving the mystery. But we are supposed to think they are so cool, but they are so not. I'm on page 136 and the entire page count is 277. I bought it so I'll try to finish it.
For those who loved (or hated) the authors post-apocalyptic novel "Dog Stars" the bad (or good) news is that "Celine" is very different. Mystery-lovers may be disappointed that unlike a conventional "Whodunnit" there's less emphasis on plot but more on character & setting. Like some other readers I found the central figure of Celine-the-PI improbable; but then I read the author's statement that although the plot is fiction, the character of Celine was based on his own mother. In general, I enjoyed but didn't love the book & would probably read a sequel. So I'd rate it 3-and-a-half stars.
Heller seems more interested in bragging about East coast aristocracy and his knowledge of guns then creating believable characters. Even the backwoods Montana tracker is Dartmouth educated. Don't waste your time.
Good read that had many strong people who could be their own story
Having trouble reading this book. Wears me out with the back and forth subjects' lives and over-the-top descriptions of landscape, etc.