Four recent reads of note, including a belated visit to The Casual Vacancy, a pre-release review of the upcoming James Smythe thriller and two very vintage, very cheesy private eye stories from Vechel Howard.
J.K. Rowling's The Casual Vacancy (2012) features the perfect little town of Pagford, an insular country village with a good school, a nice church and a fete or two. Hot Fuzz territory. But under the surface, it is a wriggling back of seething tensions! The death of a popular member of the town council proves the catalyst for a lot of loosed tensions. Alliances political, marital and familial are all destroyed as gentle Pagford's secrets all come to light.
Machiavellian politics, teen angst, claustrophobic small town drama, a bit of political corruption... plus, an author I can rely on for great characters and atmosphere. Yet, and I'm sad to say it - The Casual Vacancy really disappointed me.
Ultimately, the book was, well, mean. Although there's a veneer of good, clean progressive politics to it, The Casual Vacancy conveys a world where everyone is a bit despicable. Social workers, the middle and working class, children, mothers, families... at best, they're all victims, but more often than not, they're busily victimising someone else. Rowling's ability to craft memorable characters backfires in a way: the more I got to know each resident of Pagford, the more I disliked them.
Nor, despite the shock ending, did The Casual Vacancy ever get dramatically dark. The lesson was that the world is a seedy, dirty place, with only a few people carrying candles to light the way - and even then, reluctantly.