The first chapter of Maureen Milliken’s new novel, “No News Is Bad News,” opens with a deer hunter finding a blood splatter and then a pile of human guts lying in the woods.

The second chapter opens six years earlier, with Detective Pete Novotny in a dumpster in an alley in Philadelphia inspecting the unidentified, decomposing body of what appears to be a young teenage boy.

“No News Is Bad News” is the second book in Milliken’s Bernie O’Dea mystery series. The first in the series kindled a potential romance between O’Dea, a former big-time journalist who now publishes the Peaks Weekly Watcher in Redimere, Maine, and Novotny, now the chief of police in Redimere.

The romance is ignited – sort of – when they sleep together early in the latest book. O’Dea awakes regretting it, in part because they both had had too much to drink. She rises to leaves Novotny’s place before dawn, telling him before she slips away, “No sense in everyone in Redimere seeing me.”

All it takes is one person. And news of such currency in a small town doesn’t take the internet to go viral.

Their tryst complicates the twin storylines in Redimere and Philadelphia as the stories become tangled like nested snakes. “No News” is more ambitious and complex than Milliken’s first book, as the threading of stories adds overlapping characters clouded by false identifies and statements.

The case in Philadelphia regarding 13-year-old JP Donovan was what brought Novotny to Redimere several years before, when a drifter showed up claiming to be JP. It is a case that Novotny can’t shake.

Making everything murkier, O’Dea’s younger brother, Sal, shows up unexpectedly, fired from his professorship for plagiarizing, and soon becomes a prime suspect in two possible crimes. This leads to intensifying estrangement between O’Dea and Chief Novotny.

Murkier still, Benji Reeves, a drifter and con artist who wore out his welcome in Redimere several years ago, shows up again. He tells Novotny that he can help solve the case that has so haunted him.

Before Reeves disappears yet again, he tells Novotny, “I bet you’d love to kick the ass of someone who abuses kids.” And, “You want to be the tough-guy hero, but also want to have a warm house and soft lap. Someone to make you feel like you’re worth something, not the loser everyone always told you were, right? The loser you know you are.”

Milliken, who is city editor for the Morning Sentinel in Waterville, staked out large ambitions in plotting “No News.” She doesn’t, however, completely succeed in pulling it all together.

The false identities at the heart of the Philadelphia storyline, which bleed into what’s happening in Redimere, are hard to track. Also, as in “Hard News,” the author relies too heavily on the central antagonist providing a detailed accounting at the end that explains all the plot’s twists and turns. That scene’s circumstances, however, and the state of mind of the character at that moment, stretch credulity that he’d be so clear-minded and comprehensively forthcoming.

Despite that, the author is an inventive, imaginative storyteller. The backstories she introduces for both Bernie O’Dea and Pete Novotny are intriguing, especially that of Novotny, with a darkness that lurks in his childhood and the circumstances under which he left the Philadelphia police department.

Though the relationship between O’Dea and Novotny gets tested beyond either’s better nature, the ground is well laid for the next installment in Milliken’s Bernie O’Dea mystery series.

Frank O Smith is a Maine writer and ghostwriter whose novel, “Dream Singer,” was named as a finalist for the Bellwether Prize, created by best-selling novelist Barbara Kingsolver. Smith can be reached via his website:

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