I read The Casual Vacancy and found it underwhelming to say the least. I was trepadatious to read another of Rowling’s adult works but I’d heard good reviews and took a chance. I’m glad I did because I really enjoyed this story so much it kept me thinking beyond the end. I find it has the same flaws as TCV in that it’s overwritten and locaquious to a fault. The prose is trying to be witty but also trying to be way too wordy. It could easily have been trimmed down by half, but I like the bones of the story. The various characters are interesting and the mystery actually kept me wondering until the very end. I didn’t like the ending, too neat and wrapped up, but I’m really looking forward to the next book in the series.
The story revolves around private detective Cormoran Strike. Strike was in the military until he lost part of his leg in an explosion and returned to England to be a private detective. He’s just broken up with his rich but volatile girlfriend so he’s living in his small, cramped office. A temporary secretary, Robin, shows up for work and he reluctantly keeps her on even though he can’t afford her. Strike surprisingly gets a wealthy client, John Bristow, who wants Strike to prove that his model sister’s death was murder and not suicide. The high profile case involves a number of potential suspects and participants and Strike’s methodical investigation actually manages to find the truth.
I liked the book but it took a bit to hook me. There plot is a serviceable mystery with a beautiful, rich model (also with a volatile boyfriend) who dies on a snowy night. Three months later her adopted brother wants to know the truth. There are numerous suspects and Strike slowly and methodically interviews each one, reconstructing the events of that night and the days preceding. The book is extremely, extremely detail orientated. It slowly and thoroughly introduces each character with considerable background. The events seem to happen in slow motion and in that way there is not much action. It’s what I would think of as a realistic mystery for the most part as there are no real heroics until the end.
While the plot eventually hooked me so much that I didn’t want to put it down, I can see where others may have more trouble than I did. The writing is bloated and often awkward. The descriptions lack the clarity and clean prose of her children’s books but instead are convoluted. They try too hard and leave weird images instead of easy to understand visual descriptions. I think the writing is better than the first book and I hope it continues to get better and more streamlined as the books go on. What hooked me the most was the depth of characterization. There are numerous characters, probably too many, but I liked them and the level of depth was impressive. Strike is a bit of a know-it-all in figuring things out but that’s to be expected from a detective novel.
The mystery itself was pretty good. It had enough potential suspects that I honestly didn’t see the end coming, which is unusual for me. I didn’t really like the ending as it felt too easy and neat with Strike figuring everything out too easily. However it works and fits with the story itself. I’m interested to see what new cases Strike and Robin take on.