The only thing better than finding a new great crime novel is finding a new great crime novel that I can recommend to people who profess not to like the genre. VISITATION STREET is the latest addition to my list of such delights. It is a terrific read but barely scrapes into the generally accepted confines of the genre.
The incident around which the story builds occurs on a hot summer evening in Red Hook, a working class neighbourhood of Brooklyn, New York. Teenagers Val and June are bored and hot so decide to take a hot pink rubber raft down to the water. The next morning Val is found alive but unconscious on the shore. June has disappeared.
The book depicts the impact of this incident and its aftermath on the local community and a selection of its inhabitants. Val is an obvious choice as someone the reader would be interested in reading more about and indeed her mixture of guilt, obsessive behaviours designed to bring June back and teenage desperation to be an adult are compellingly described. But for me it is the book’s less obvious character studies that set it above the average read. Together these ordinary people – including Fadi the bodega owner who believes he can draw people together in the wake of the tragic events, Jonathan the music teacher haunted by his own ghost, Cree a black teenager whose psychic mother spends all her time talking to his dead father, Monique an old friend of June and Val’s – manage to provide an extraordinarily captivating picture of a community in which conflict and togetherness are equally influential forces.
One of the reasons I think this will appeal to a broader cross-section of readers than die-hard crime fans is that the incident – June’s disappearance – is for long passages not the focus of the book. There are other ghosts to hear from, other dreams to follow, other people’s redemption to wait for. Though traditionalists will be pleased that there is a resolution to the mystery element of the story even if it is not brought about by the usual dogged police work.
To top off VISITATION STREET’s list of strengths is that from its eponymous street, on which several key characters live, to the nearby housing projects and dangerous shoreline with requisite dingy bar the book is infused with such a strong sense of its location that if I half-believe I’ve been there myself.
Apart from the few confused souls (most of whom seem to have completely misunderstood the meaning of the Dennis Lehane publishing sticker on the cover) hanging out in the 1-2 star zone of the book’s Amazon reviews page VISITATION STREET has received almost universal praise and, for once, I am in complete agreement. Read it. Even if you don’t like crime stories.
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This is the second book I’ve read that I’m including in my quest to complete the Reading USA Fiction Challenge for which I’ll read books set in each of the USA (and one for the District of Columbia). My personal twist is that all the books are by new (to me) authors.
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Publisher Sceptre 
Length 306 pages
Book Series standalone
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