After the phenomenal success of Harry Potter – enough to turn the youthful wizard's creator into one of the richest women in Britain – JK Rowling might be forgiven for either taking time off from writing altogether, or at least for sticking with what she knows.
Instead, thanks to her self-confessed, post-Potter status as "the freest author in the world", Ms Rowling has written a novel for adults. At first glance, The Casual Vacancy, which hits bookshops this morning, seems the work of a writer grabbing her new-found freedom with both hands. In place of Potter, Voldemort and straightforward good vs bad, is the murkier world of small-town social tension, spiced with everything from heroin to child abuse.
Look closer, however, and Ms Rowling's leap is not so great. Amid a slow plot and often clunky cast, it is the teenagers who bring the book to life. Not so far from Hogwarts, after all.