There was no midnight-release frenzy, or fans lined up in costume, but J.K. Rowling's highly anticipated -- and tightly guarded -- new novel for adults hit bookstore shelves Thursday morning. With 1 million pre-orders, "The Casual Vacancy" was already No. 1 on the Amazon chart, and U.S. publisher Little, Brown has printed 2 million copies in hardcover.
"The Casual Vacancy" is the British author's first book since her bestselling seven-part "Harry Potter" series for children, a megaphenomenon that sold more than 450 copies worldwide and spawned eight films about the boy wizard and his friends fighting evil.
After months of intense secrecy regarding the plot of "The Casual Vacancy" -- including elaborate nondisclosure agreements for journalists and manuscripts withheld from foreign translators -- "The Casual Vacancy" landed with something of a thud, striking many reviewers as unmagical, gritty and dull.
Set in the fictional English village of Pagford, Rowling's tale of real-world class warfare begins with the sudden death of a town council member, felled by an aneurysm in the parking lot of his golf club. Barry Fairbrother is one of the leading defenders of Pagford's ongoing connection to a festering housing project on its outskirts.
Swiftly, a large ensemble cast of characters floods in, all with an interest in who will fill the "casual vacancy" left on the council by Fairbrother's death. They range from promiscuous juvenile delinquents to pretentious local business owners and, as critics have noted with varying degrees of disappointment, there's not a wizard among them.
Rowling fans on Long Island were excited about the book anyway. Briana Klatzko of Deer Park had pre-ordered a copy from Book Revue in Huntington so she'd have it first thing Thursday.
"I'm a huge 'Harry Potter' fan. The fact that J.K. Rowling is writing another book is really intriguing. I can't wait to read it," Klatzko said. The 23-year-old, who started the 'Harry Potter' series when she was 12, is now employed as a nanny and planned to start reading the 503-page book while her 14-month-old charge was napping.
"Once people grasp that it's a real, grown-up book, she will have a huge following," predicted Charline Spector, owner of four BookHampton stores on the East End.
Robert Klein, co-owner of Book Revue, said he had ordered 300 copies for his store, which arrived Wednesday and were opened Thursday morning. "Will it be a bestseller? Without a doubt," Klein said. "J.K. Rowling could copy the boxscores from the sports section and I think it would hit the bestseller list."