Julia Spencer-Fleming’s new novel, “One Was a Soldier,” is the best kind of mystery — because it’s not just a mystery. It’s a richly textured story about the lives of several key, interconnected characters. Some of the interconnections are quickly made obvious. But it is what’s beneath the surface — often in the troubled psyches of a half-dozen major characters — that creates such a compelling read.

This is Spencer-Fleming’s seventh in the Clare Ferguson/Russ Van Alstyne series. Ferguson is the Episcopalian priest and Van Alstyne the police chief (and a widower) in Miller’s Kill, a small, seemingly bucolic burg in upstate New York. Ferguson and Van Alstyne are also lovers, a bit star-crossed, which adds to the complexity of the mix. Ferguson has just returned from a tour of duty as a National Guard helicopter pilot in Iraq when the book opens. Troubled by all she encountered in the war, she becomes one of a handful in a support group for those struggling with the distressing echoes of deployment.

Spencer-Fleming uses themes pursued in the support group’s weekly sessions to deepen the story. She is a master at dropping tiny bread crumbs to mark the trajectory of the real story, but she does it with such finesse it is near impossible to clearly track them. All the intersecting and bifurcating trails are like a magician’s sleight of hand used to divert the eye. Though the story is convoluted, it is also lean and sinewy like a haiku: Little is wasted or offered idly as filigree.

The story turns around the apparent suicide of one of the members in the support group. Spencer-Fleming, however, gets high mileage out of the question of whether it was suicide or murder. Ferguson, the Episcopalian priest, can’t be shaken from her belief that it was murder, even though Chief Van Alstyne thinks it was suicide. But that doesn’t mean that Van Alstyne believes it was simply a suicide. Like so much in the book, there’s always more to the story beneath surface appearances.

There are easily 30 characters in the story. If Spencer-Fleming mentions any of them more than four or five times — pay attention! That still leaves more than a dozen whose stories add considerable dimension to the novel. If there is any complaint — and it’s a small one — it’s that Spencer-Fleming resolves the conflict of three or four key storylines too succinctly and all too briefly in only a few pages. But there is no disappointment in “One Was a Soldier.” It is deeply satisfying in the reading to feel yourself in the hands of a masterful storyteller.

Frank O Smith writes book reviews for The Maine Sunday Telegram.