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The story Liz Moore tells in her fifth novel, "The God of the Woods," is not a simple one. It has multiple timelines revealed in non-chronological order, a large cast of characters with interlocking backstories, detailed geography to imagine and keep in mind and, of course, a few subplots that turn out to be red herrings while others click satisfyingly into place.

When a demanding book like this gets it all right, it is an unusually gratifying reading experience. "God of the Woods" is just that. Three days after you turn the last page, your head is still half in it.

It's as if you can smell the pine and wood smoke of its Van Laar Preserve setting. You're still revisiting how it all turned out, how the truth emerged, how the pieces fit together. (Because they do, thank God — not always the case.) And the characters: the mostly awful Van Laars; the Hewitts, who run the Van Laars' summer camp; groundskeeper Carl Stoddard and his wife; Investigator Judyta Luptack, her supervisor Denny Hayes, her little brother Jesse and her mom. Some of these are secondary characters, mostly offstage, but each is so finely and feelingly crafted that they stick around for the afterparty in your mind.

The central action of the book begins in the summer of 1975, when Louise Donnadieu finds that one of her campers is missing from the cabin. It is Barbara Van Laar, rebellious daughter of the people who own the camp. Two generations of older Van Laars are on the property themselves, throwing a house party at their mansion. Hard as it is to believe, these people have already lost a child, when their son Bear went missing 14 years earlier. In fact, that was the last time they threw a big party.

Then Barbara's one close friend at the camp, Tracy, runs off to look for her and gets lost; now, two girls are missing.

Meanwhile, a serial killer who was active in the area at the time of Bear's disappearance has recently escaped from jail.

So, yes, this book is a crime novel but it's not gory, sensationalist or creepy. One of the best characters and stories is investigator Judy and her engagement with the case. It's as much about who she is — a girl from an unpromising background who made the papers at 21 as part of the nation's first class of female state troopers, now very aware of how class and gender are operating in the situation unfolding around her — as it is about the whereabouts of Barbara Van Laar. Which also has something to do with class and gender.

Moore has written an atmospheric family drama, a social novel and the best kind of missing persons story, one that's fun to read and think about.

Marion Winik is a Baltimore-based writer and professor.

The God of the Woods

By: Liz Moore.

Publisher: Riverhead, 473 pages, $30.