Life in Tenney’s Harbor on Mount Desert Island, Maine, is relegated to a clearly defined before and after in Gillian French’s new young adult novel, “The Lies They Tell.” Before is detailed in chapter one, chronicling the Garrisons, one of the tony summer families, coming to the country club two nights before Christmas for dinner. Pearl Haskins, a slight-figured, easy-to-overlook local who has just turned 18, is their server. After the Garrisons leave, and the club closes, Pearl follows Reese – her best friend, and Indigo, both servers at the club, through the snowy streets of town to Indigo’s apartment. Pearl is wounded, knowing that Reese is going to bed with Indigo – wishing instead that it were with her instead.

“At the same time, on the other side of Tenney’s Harbor, the Garrisons were burning in their beds.”

The fire destroys the Garrisons’ large manor on what the locals call Millionaires Row, and takes the lives of David and Sloane Garrison and two of their three children. The event becomes a source of much gossip and intrigue both for summer people and those who live there year round. But for Pearl and her father, Win, who was caretaker of the property, it turns their lives inside out. As it does the only surviving Garrison, Tristan, the eldest sibling who at the time of the fire was away at Sugarloaf Mountain skiing with a friend from Yale and his friend’s family.

The second chapter opens six months later during the height of the summer season, when all the mansions on Millionaire Row are open and occupied – excepting the charred ruins of the Garrison place. Pearl is still working at the country club, as are Reese and Indigo. And Tristan Garrison – a National Merit scholar and star lacrosse player at Yale – is now aloof and guarded, though he remains a center point of gravity among the privileged youth in town. He lives alone in an apartment, drives a snazzy Bentley Continental GT and hangs out with his two best friends, Bridges Spencer and Akil Malhotra, squiring them about on his father’s sailboat and his gleaming outboard. Pearl and her father are barely getting by, as Win Haskins has been let go as a caretaker by nearly every summer family in town. He now works as a groundskeeper at the country club, has succumbed to a drinking problem and become a pariah, as people believe “it was Win Haskin’s fault. A few tips of the flash, and he’d let the wolf in the door at the Garrisons.”

The author deftly captures the turmoil within Pearl as she goes about her life, seeking normalcy in the face of public embarrassment. Her mother has abandoned her and her father. Pearl struggles to fit in and to keep she and her father financially afloat, regretful, sympathetic and angry all at once with him for becoming a joke at the local bar, where patrons ply him nightly with free drinks to watch him sink awash in alcohol. When the social door seems to open for her to become friends with Bridges Spencer and enter the periphery of Tristan Garrison’s world, she hesitantly steps through it. Both her best friend Reese and her father come to see this as a betrayal, a disavowal of her true place as a year-round resident of Tenney’s Harbor.

In time, she holds her own against the bitchiness of two rich girls in Tristan and Bridges’s clique. Invited along on Tristan’s sailboat for the annual regatta, she catches Tristan’s notice when she proves herself an able crewmember when others go below deck to party. She is keen to know him better and responds to his guarded overtures of friendship. She also begins to search for the truth of what happened the previous Christmas at his family’s estate. It’s come out that the fire was less innocent than originally presumed. She scours the internet for information.

Pearl has remained staunch in her belief that her father had nothing to do with the fire. “He thinks it was his fault… He wasn’t drinking that night,” she tells Reese. “He swore to me.” And in defiance of the internet chatter, she believes that though everyone links Tristan to the crime – “the only survivor, the sole heir to all that money” – he is innocent, too.

After she and Reese reconcile, she tells him that her interest in hanging with the summer people is to learn the truth of what happened the night of the fire. “I have all the pieces …,” she tells her friend. “I just need to figure out how they fit.”

French is masterful in “The Lies They Tell,” developing fully-fleshed characters and ably plotting the mystery of the fire. The final reveal is surprising – and wholly believable. This is no small feat, given how tightly circumscribed French keeps the storyline. “The Lies They Tell” is one of the most satisfying displays of the mystery craft that I’ve read all year.

Frank O Smith is a writer and ghostwriter whose novel “Dream Singer” was a finalist for the PEN/Bellwether Prize. It was also named a Notable Book of the Year in Literary Fiction by “Shelf Unbound,” the international review magazine. Smith can be reached via his website: