An aging PI on the trail of a decades-old cold case finds more than she bargained for in the wilds of Wyoming.
Old-money WASP Celine Watkins, 68, the titular protagonist of Heller's (The Painter, 2014, etc.) first detective novel, isn't your typical private eye. But most private eyes can't boast a 96 percent success rate, either. Contacted by the daughter of a National Geographic photographer who disappeared in Yellowstone two decades earlier under mysterious circumstances, Celine and husband Pete head out from Brooklyn Heights to Wyoming. As the couple retraces the photographer's last known steps, however, they find a mystery far larger than just a missing journalist. These scenes of sleuthing set against the Wyoming wilderness are beautifully rendered—given that Heller is also a contributing editor to Outside magazine and National Geographic Adventure, it's no wonder the book's best moments come in its evocative descriptions of the American West in early autumn. Celine herself is a delight, and seeing grizzled men ranging from bikers to gun salesmen to Bruce Willis repeatedly underestimate this tough little old lady is one of the novel's biggest joys. But Heller's authorial presence is so strong that his characters' own voices suffer. When his characters withhold information from each other, it seems to happen for no reason other than to generate suspense, and their dialogue, while at times quite witty, is never recognizably distinct from Heller's narration. In a particularly illustrative instance, Pete recounts a conversation he had with a woman named Marie: " 'She was a man-eater!’ Marie said in a baffled Haitian accent.” It's hard to imagine an actual human being using the phrase "Marie said in a baffled Haitian accent," yet such unbelievable lines appear again and again.
An imperfect but largely satisfying detective novel anchored by a charming and unforgettable heroine.