This is a mystery that needs to be savored; be prepared to treat yourself to prose that is lush but never overblown and to be transported to the various American landscapes featured in the book. Heller betrays his painter’s roots in where his eye strays and where his focus is in his writing. Some readers may find his attention to setting detracts from the story being told; he draws the reader into realistic places as well as fully realized characters.
The reader gets a tour not only of places, but of families and how very different ones fit together and are ripped apart by time or tragedy, leaving the characters to stumble forward as best they can, unmoored from those they care most about.
Perhaps part of the reason the characters are so luminous and believable in this novel is because they’re based in part on Heller’s own family. The mystery and the character development carry equal weight in this story.
The protagonist is a late 60s woman who comes from a highly wealthy family; the kind of wealth that most readers will have difficulty comprehending. Interwoven with the mystery Celine is investigating are brief glimpses into Celine’s highly unorthodox life. As she tries to find out exactly what happened in a missing person’s case from decades ago, her son tries to solve the mystery of his own involving a tragedy his mother endured as a young teen in private boarding school.
The single weak point of the book is that few readers may be able to connect very much with Celine. Someone born into that much wealth, the recipient of that much privilege, may have a disconnect with those of us who lead middle- or even upper-class lives. In trying to present Celine’s quirks and her innate grace, Heller occasionally misses the mark — Celine charms everyone she meets, is impossible to faze, knows the right thing to do in any given situation, and intelligent enough to be one step ahead of everyone else. It’s a little over the top after a while.
Both mysteries are presented with all the heart-wrenching details one would expect of an Oprah favorite, but the book lacks the bite of novels like Girl on the Train and Big Little Lies. The matter of fact presentation of tragedy that affects all lives keeps this novel from being sentimental.
Readers looking for a traditional whodunit or who prefer gritty police procedurals will need to look elsewhere, but those who appreciate seeing a slice of life story that doesn’t necessarily tie everything up neatly at the end, even when one of the mysteries is solved, will be enchanted.
Cara spent 10 years as a Library Reader’s Advisor in between performing with a belly dance troupe and teaching dance classes. She prefers Swinburne to Shelley, Faulkner to Hemingway, and can be found on most rainy days curled up with a good book and a cup of earl gray, hot.