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"Gone Too Long" by Lori Roy; Dutton (352 pages, $27).

"Gone Too Long" by Lori Roy; Dutton (352 pages, $27). (Penguin Random House/TNS)

"Gone Too Long" by Lori Roy; Dutton (352 pages, $27)

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Families are complicated - a phrase and a fact that has imbued many a mystery plot. The vagaries of families provide a sturdy foundation for Edgar winner Lori Roy's fifth outstanding standalone. The quietly unnerving "Gone Too Long" persuasively looks at the legacy of violence and hate, and the responsibility to stop the festering bigotry and loathing.

Imogene Coulter has always tried to distance herself from Edison, her father who was a leader in the Ku Klux Klan in Simmonsville, Ga. The feeling was mutual - Edison was openly disdainful of Imogene because she was not his biological child. While her mother shared her distaste for the KKK, her sister Jo Lynne and brother-in-law Garland were Klan members. But the consequences of Edison's actions rise up when, on the day of his funeral, Imogene goes to clean out one of his outbuildings on a remote property, a Klan meeting spot where "the quiet, the whisper of all the evil ... can almost be heard." There, she finds Christopher, who's about five years old and has been living in the basement since he was an infant. Although she seems to have escaped, Beth Liddell also has been held captive in the basement for seven years since she was kidnapped at age 10 when her Puerto Rican babysitter was murdered.

How Christopher and Beth came to be in the basement - and where Beth went - forms the crux of "Gone Too Long," but Roy also turns her novel into a look at the banality of evil. On the surface, scenes seem harmless, such as a breakfast of homemade biscuits and gravy for neighbors and a woman measuring the distance between a man's eyes. But everyday situations like this are quietly chilling in their ordinariness because the neighbors are Klansmen and the man is being fitted for a hood.

Roy wisely avoids salacious violence while showing how hate creates a never-ending circle and the havoc it can wreak on families. It's not enough to decry bigotry - Imogene needs to take action. Roy also delves into the dichotomy of people - Jo Lynne works as a social worker, helping "broken" families and children of all races, yet her bigotry is deep seated. Imogene has had to justify to herself how she can maintain a relationship with her sister and brother-in-law when she is so opposed to their beliefs.

Roy, who is, to date, the only woman to have won the Edgar Award for both best first novel and best novel, has established a niche for lyrical prose in a noir story. Her standards continue in "Gone Too Long," a formidable history of hate.

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