July 16, 2013 at 04:00 AM EDT

Visitation Street

Current Status
In Season
Ivy Pochoda
Ecco Press
Mystery and Thriller
We gave it an A-

Some mysteries get called page-turners only because the writing’s so bad. You read them at a breakneck pace, but for the same reasons you speed on highways: It’s all about getting there, and there’s not a damn thing to look at along the way. In that sense, Ivy Pochoda’s Visitation Street is not actually a page-turner. Skimming it would be a crime.

Pochoda’s novel was handpicked by Dennis Lehane for his imprint at Ecco Books, and you can see, inside a few gravely tense and beautiful pages, why he fell for it. Early on, two Brooklyn girls under the influence of adolescence and boredom decide to cool off by hitting the bay on a pink raft. One of them, Val, is later found under a pier with no memory of what went on. The fate of the other, June, takes 300 pages to unravel.

The strongest pull here is not the mystery but the humanely drawn cast of neighborhood characters who hold their breath — and rethink their own teetering lives — while awaiting news of June. There’s Jonathan, a music teacher with some serious emotional baggage and way too much interest in Val; Cree, a floundering teen whose mom is a psychic and whose dad was shot to death by an aspiring gangbanger; and Fadi, a Lebanese grocer who quixotically tries to solve June’s disappearance and bind the community with his earnest newsletter. There’s a hint of ghosts here, too. Visitation Street is about how the living, even more than the dead, can haunt a place, desperate to be released. A-

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