THE CASUAL VACANCY
Quite famous — and deservedly so — for her amazing Harry Potter series, Rowling’s foray into grown-up fiction has plenty of well-drawn characters, especially the troubled teens of Pagford. She gets inside the heads of almost all of the citizens she spotlights, but that’s part of the problem. There are too many characters, most of whom are dreadfully unsympathetic, and it takes quite a bit of effort to keep them straight. The book seems like a major overreaction to the Potter books: no hero; no magic whatsoever; bleakness and bitterness; and tiny, sad lives. It’s a downer but a well-rendered one, except for a bit of heavyhandedness where the have-nots are concerned.