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More County crime-solving The Girls She Left Behind'

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Eastport author Sarah Graves continues new series of mysteries

Creating a series of books that is both enduring and engaging is as difficult a task as any that an author might undertake. Building characters that warrant long-term exploration and whose adventures readers wish to follow not just once, but over and over again, well it's far from easy.

Unless you're Eastport-based author Sarah Graves, that is.

Graves first achieved success with the extremely popular 'Home Repair is Homicide' series 16 books strong, with well over a million copies in print. That alone would be enough, but Graves has actually started in on a second series, and if the second book is any indication, readers can likely expect plenty more mysteries yet to come.

'The Girls She Left Behind' (Bantam, $26) is the second book in Graves's Lizzie Snow series, featuring a former Boston homicide detective whose personal quest for her missing niece has led her to become a sheriff's deputy in the small Aroostook County town of Bearkill.

Lizzie's first northern Maine winter is turning out to be an atypical one in terms of weather, but that is presenting its own set of problems. Namely, there's a wildfire burning hot in the backwoods of Bearkill, leaving many in the town wondering if and when they might have to abandon their homes to the steadily advancing flames.

A young girl named Tara Wylie notorious for running away has disappeared. However, something is different this time something the girl's mother is being particularly cagey about. Meanwhile, there's an unknown connection to a psychopathic kidnapper, a man named Henry Gemmerle who kept three women imprisoned in his basement for a decade.

Unpleasant weirdness is mounting all around as Lizzie struggles to piece together the clues that will allow her to save Tara Wylie. Even with the help of her friends and fellow law enforcement types, it remains to be seen whether Lizzie can win the race against time and bring Tara home safely.

It's difficult to talk about mysteries and thrillers in terms of plot, simply because the twists and turns of the story are a fundamental part of the experience. And Graves certainly offers up plenty it's difficult to discern in just which direction the narrative will take you. That isn't to say that the plot is confusing or convoluted it's not at all. It's just that Graves doesn't feel it necessary to hold the reader's hand; she trusts that you'll be able to figure it out for yourself.

(Note: In the course of reading this book, I had three separate moments when I thought I had solved the whole puzzle. In order, I was a) wrong, b) slightly less wrong and c) partially right. So there's that.)

'The Girls She Left Behind' feels like a bit of a departure for Graves. It's definitely a darker tale than the ones she's given us before, darker even than 'Winter at the Door,' the first Lizzie Snow book. However, that darkness offers a good deal of narrative flexibility that serves Graves well. She's already demonstrated an ability to generate interesting characters; Lizzie Snow is a nicely complex protagonist, filled with as many questions as answers. Seeing those characters in more shadowy circumstances makes for a top-shelf thriller.

The key to a long shelf life for a series is threefold basically, you need an interesting character in an interesting setting doing interesting things. So far, it looks like Sarah Graves is firing on all cylinders. Lizzie Snow is a dynamic protagonist, just the right blend of capable and flawed. The fictional town of Bearkill is definitely coming into its own the richness of the backdrop seems destined only to increase. And Graves has spent years demonstrating an ability to construct textured, nuanced mysteries.

Put it all together and 'The Girls She Left Behind' is another worthwhile entry in this series; readers can expect to see plenty more of Lizzie Snow and company in the years to come.

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