This is book six in the Jack Caffrey series, which I was glad to see following Miss Hayder’s diversion to Hanging Hill. There’s not much here to separate it from the other five novels; the characters are well-drawn, consistent and, thankfully, behave like human beings. The author manages to skilfully weave several threads around the main plot, tying the whole thing up very nicely with a last minute twist that honestly threw me.
What I wasn’t too sure about was the focus of the story: Jack Caffrey wasn’t really in it that much, which was odd since he was supposed to be solving the case. Instead we flitted around the relationship between a mental nurse and his boss, and spent a lot of time inside the head of one of Caffrey’s colleagues. I think I preferred it when the books were about it him.
I think the only real problem I had with the book was that the prose was a little haphazard in places; there were a few spots which brought the flow to a crashing halt and left me wondering how the editor could have missed it. My personal favourite?
The examination has been a hot potato that bounced around the Flax Bourton Mortuary like a ping-pong ball.
Bouncing potatoes? Mmmm. Not sure.
Okay, a bit of an odd choice for me, and if I’m honest I picked it for one reason:
Yup, it’s being made into a movie starring Tom Cruise. (Do I need a better one?). The book follows the experiences of a soldier caught up in a twenty-year war with an enemy that seems unbeatable, even though the home side is equipped with high-tech exoskeletons that enable them to fight with superhuman strength and speed. The first time into battle, our hero is killed, and wakes up to find himself in a time loop: repeating the same day and the same battle again and again.
The Forever War meets Ground Hog Day.
I wasn’t expecting much, but I was very pleasantly surprised. It was well-written, well-paced and told the story in a sort of flat, distant style that did remind me very much of the Forever War. It’s not a very long book, and the terse prose didn’t waste a single word. The history of the war, the origins of the aliens, the technology and the explanation of the time loop was all skilfully weaved into the plot without the feeling that it was all being slotted in during slow moments. Nicely done.
Speaking of the time loop, I had a lot of difficulty getting my noggin around that one, but I’ve always found time travel in novels a bit tricky. In this case though, I found it tricky and perhaps a little bit unconvincing (can you say that about a science-fiction novel?). Just my opinion though.
As I said, I was pleasantly surprised. This is an excellent book that I will probably become a bit of a cult classic after the movie is released. I just hope the film does it justice.
I’m in two minds about this one. It was a reasonably enjoyable book: decent characters, excellent sense of place, not too fast, not too drawn out, interesting plot and extremely well told.
While I was reading it though, I just had the sense that I should be enjoying it more.
Part of the problem was that the book was a little too precise, perhaps a little too formulaic for my tastes. The prose was very well constructed and flowed nicely, but it didn’t really deviate in terms of energy or style; there were large tracts of text where I just, sort of, drifted off…
There was also an awful lot of exposition too; so much in fact that there was almost no room to let the characters grow inside your head; their exact thoughts and feelings about everything and everyone around them was laid out in the most painstaking detail. Now, usually I find this unnecessary, but in this case there were so many characters who thought and behaved in much the same way (that’s village life for you) that I was happy with any hint I could get. Nevertheless, on a number of occasions I found myself reading about one character only to realise that I’d mistaken her for someone else entirely. And here I think was the biggest problem for me: the characters held no surprises. I might go further to say they there a little stereotypical: the people on the council estate neglected their offspring and took drugs, the older villagers were comfortably well-off and politely racist, and the professional indian couple focussed on their more academically capable children.
Still, The Casual Vacancy worked for me was in the setting: I really got the “Little Britain” feel which remained consistent throughout the book. It was earthy, and nicely grounded in the real world.
I just wish I had enjoyed it more. 🙁