If you were able to escape the clutches of a serial kidnapper, would you immediately go to the police and tell them about the crime and the remaining captives? What if, instead, you let 15 years pass without saying a word to anyone?

Eastport author Sarah Graves, creator of the “Home Repair Is Homicide” mystery series, provides one set of harrowing answers to those disturbing questions in her new Maine-based crime thriller. “The Girls She Left Behind,” her second novel featuring Lizzie Snow, former Boston homicide detective turned Aroostook County deputy sheriff, explores the consequences of a decade and a half of denial and duplicity.

Although set mostly in the fictional small town of Bearkill, the novel opens in New Haven, Connecticut, with a creepy prologue in which Jane and Cam, teenaged cousins, are abducted by Henry Gemerle, who also keeps other women captive in his basement chamber of horrors. Presuming that Cam is dead, Jane escapes but then chooses not to go to the police. When Gemmerle’s crimes are exposed 15 years later, Jane is surprised to learn that Cam survived and fears what her cousin might have to say when she learns that Jane could have saved her from years of abuse.

Meanwhile, up in Bearkill, Lizzie Snow is trying to find Tara Wylie, a missing teenage girl with a history of dropping out of sight without warning. She was last seen with her motorcycle-riding older boyfriend, but there are also clues of foul play. Tara’s mother is frantic with worry, but she also seems to be hiding information, alternately acting needy and then withholding crucial facts.

As if there weren’t enough trouble already, drought has turned the forest surrounding the town into a tinderbox. As embers fall, fire spreads and the conflagration threatens the town, the various players in this drama converge toward a confrontation in the inferno, one that will lead Lizzie in particular to the brink of disaster.

Still regretting having jettisoned her Massachusetts police career but growing more comfortable with the Great North Woods after just a few weeks as a deputy, Lizzie is a prickly, independent and forceful protagonist, dedicated to her job but trying to negotiate the ups and downs of her social life. She is an outsider with a unvarnished perspective on life in upstate Maine, but Graves does not overplay the fish-out-of-water aspects of Lizzie’s situation

“The Girls She Left Behind” offers plenty of unfinished business for Lizzie from “Winter at the Door,” the first installment of this series. Lizzie still can’t figure out her relationship with her ex-lover, state policeman Dylan Hudson, who is handsome and charming but married to someone else and always on the prowl. Local veterinarian Trey Washburn is obviously smitten with her, too, but somehow the magic just isn’t there yet, despite his thoughtfulness, reliability and sensitivity.

More important, though, is the fact that Lizzie is still haunted by the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of her 9-year-old niece Nicki, the daughter of her murdered sister. The hope of somehow finding Nicki in Maine is what keeps Lizzie rooted to Bearkill and gives her a reason to persevere, despite her misgivings. These subplots all add to the charm and suspense of “The Girls She Left Behind,” but each rightly takes a back seat to the search for Tara Wylie and its connection to the Gemerle abductions.

The initial premise of “The Girls She Left Behind,” however, is a grabber, and Graves does an excellent job of providing new twists as the narrative develops. The saga of the cousins plays out in unexpected ways, and the stakes rise exponentially as the plot barrels toward its climax.

Graves’ plotting is generally deft and realistic, although she does employ one particular gambit one time too many. She also seems to play fast and loose regarding how various government agencies are supposed to share information, but most readers will choose to overlook any questionable streamlining of proper procedure.

Well-observed and craftily orchestrated, “The Girls She Left Behind” is a solid entry in what is shaping up to be a strong Maine mystery series. Readers are likely to warm to Lizzie Snow and eagerly await her next appearance.

Berkeley writer Michael Berry is a Portsmouth, New Hampshire, native who has contributed to Salon, the San Francisco Chronicle, New Hampshire Magazine, the Los Angeles Review of Books and many other publications. He can be contacted at:

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