I found new delights every time I read the books, and was increasingly awed by Rowling's careful plotting, the way she subtly laid the groundwork for important revelations early in the series without ever tipping her hand.
Maybe that kind of control works best on a larger canvas; it gives "Vacancy" an airless feeling. Everyone in the book has a secret, and while Rowling carefully portions out information, telling us just enough to keep us reading, we never doubt that by the end all will be revealed in a way that will create maximum embarrassment for everyone.
This isn't a bad book, just a disappointing one. There's plenty to admire, starting with Rowling's obvious pleasure in writing for grown-ups.
Here she is describing Howard Mollison, local deli owner and self-important chairman of the town council:
"He was an extravagantly obese man of 64. A great apron of stomach fell so far down in front of his thighs that most people thought instantly of his penis when they first clapped eyes on him, wondering when he had last seen it, how he washed it, how he managed to perform any of the acts for which a penis is designed."
There's plenty of sex, especially among the teenagers. Andrew, a pimply boy with a crush on a beautiful neighbor, Gaia, is ecstatic when she sits in front of him on the school bus:
"Andrew stared, unseeing, at the grimy window, and clutched his schoolbag more closely to him, to conceal the erection brought on by the heavy vibration of the bus." Take that, Ron Weasley!
It's interesting to see a billionaire, who was on public assistance when she started the series that made her fortune, writing about class warfare.
There's a lot to talk about in "The Casual Vacancy" - it tackles big issues that would make it appealing to book groups. I just wish there were more joy in reading it.