Despite the reviews, I hesitated downloading "Defending Jacob" because of the subject matter (kid/parent angst, bullies, person-trapped-in-the-legal-system, etc.). It seemed like it would be a predictable plot. I couldn't have been more wrong!
This is one of the best court room drama?family drama? suspense novel? I have read/listened to. The characters were incredibly well developed -- the parents' relationship with their son was almost painful just because it was so believable ("this could have happened to anyone!"). The plot is incredibly intense. I literally sat in a parking lot with my mouth open as the final minutes were read. And the PERFORMANCE!!! A tour de force. The reader did such an unbelievable job that I am actually afraid to recommend the novel to people who might just 'read' it because I felt he added so much (was the novel THIS good in print?). Could not praise this audiobook enough.
(I read Mr. Landay's two previous novels recently -- I saw the great reviews of "Defending Jacob" but, like I said, I was avoiding it because of the plot, so I chose to read his earlier books first. Obviously, the author is mastering his craft. I can't wait for his next novel!)
I read Rowling's other non-Potter book (the one she wrote under a pseudonym) and found it entertaining but mediocre. I expected the same reaction to this one and had therefore put off listening to it. When I did, I was totally surprised by how much I liked it. So much so that I laid in bed until well past two in the morning listening to the end (something I rarely do)--ergo the five stars even though this is not 'high' literature.
The Casual Vacancy is a story about the dark hidden lives of the inhabitants of a small country town. (Yes, not a very original theme but so very well done by Rowling.) The characters are dark, Very dark. Sometimes their meanness astounds you. In fact, they are all mean, except in varying degrees -- the only 'solid' good guy appears to be the character who dies in the first few pages of the book, leaving "the casual vacancy" in the town's council. (Had he lived, no doubt we would have found he had his secrets as well. Nobody is blameless here.)
The things that happen as a result of the characters inner flaws and demons are catastrophic, but easy to believe. In fact, Rowling makes them seem inevitable. A train without brakes going downhill.
I hope she writes more novels like this. And I hope Tom Hollander reads them. I will be sure to listen.
I wondered about this book because it was written in 2005 and not turned into an audiobook until 2014 (timed with the release of the author's new novel). Thought perhaps audiobooks had ignored it because it was not a very good example of the author's work...and almost ignored it myself. So glad I did not! Like in every Moriarty novel, the story is populated with everyday people who have to deal with highly unusual circumstances (two sisters find an abandoned baby and raise it as their own; an old lady leaves her island house to her grandson's ex-girlfriend...). Moriarty uses her unbelievable knowledge of human nature to make all the characters come to life with wit and compassion--and you feel like you know each and every one. The ending of all her novels are always a little sad simply because you have to say good-bye to the 'people' in them.