Set in a tiny town in the English countryside, Pagford is populated with the unlikeliest of characters. It's the perfect setting for salt-of-the-earth, kind, community-minded, and compassionate folks. But you won't find such people here. Everyone has a secret; everyone has hidden motivations and desires which they will stop at nothing to satisfy. These are unseemly folks, each with his or her own particular array of distasteful traits. Throw in a newly vacant seat on the town's council, and you have fertile fields for every kind of backstabbing, manipulating, lying, and coercing imaginable. Yes, it's on.
Surprisingly, while racing through The Casual Vacancy (because I could not put it down), I was most often reminded of Barbara Vine (aka Ruth Rendell). Rowling's vision of her characters' emotions is razor sharp, and the clarity with which she understands their inner life is startling. You'd be hard pressed to find someone who could paint a psychological study better than Vine, but Rowling is certainly hard on Vine's heels here. Yes, her characters are unlikable (every single one of them), and yes, this is a tale of ugly people doing awful things, and yes, there is so much going on here that it takes a bit of effort to untangle all the threads. But this is one fantastic read, and it is so completely worth the effort. Rowling is, above all else, an amazing storyteller. Don't miss her gigantic leap into adult fiction; it is a thing of beauty underneath all the darkness. Recommended By Dianah H., Powells.com