BOOK REVIEW – Joyland by Stephen King

By Marty Mulrooney

JoylandStephenKing

Joyland is the new novel from the world’s best-selling author, Stephen King. The latest release in the highly successful and hugely popular ‘Hard Case Crime’ book series, Joyland tells the story of college student Devin Jones as he takes a part-time job at a small-town North Carolina amusement park during the summer of 1973. Trying to escape a broken heart, he instead discovers a crime – and ghost – mystery that will not only see him coming-of-age, but force him to take a ride with an evil that hides in broad daylight. Published through a collaboration between Winterfall LLC and Titan Publishing Group, Joyland is due to be released in the UK on the 7th June 2013.

By early September, Heaven beach was almost completely deserted, which suited my mood fine. That fall was the most beautiful of my life. Even forty years later I can say that. And I was never so unhappy, I can say that too.

Devin Jones is 21-years-old and suffering from a severe case of the moody blues. His girlfriend Wendy has moved to Boston and dumped him, even if she hasn’t said so in as many words. She seem content instead to simply let their relationship slowly decay via long-distance as Devin stumbles in a stupor toward the blinding light of adulthood – and harsh reality – in paper-thin denial. That isn’t to say that Devin simply mopes around ignoring the truth. He knows all of this deep down, which is perhaps the real reason he takes a new summer job. And what glum 21-year-old, beset with the growing fear that he might be losing his girlfriend, would not be attracted by the idea of working in a place called Joyland? 

Joyland is the main attraction – WORK CLOSE TO HEAVEN! King has the ability to not only describe a place so that you can almost see, taste and feel it, but to populate his novels with richly-drawn characters that each take on a life of their own. They breathe. From the attractive ‘Hollywood Girls’ (in green dresses and green high heels and cutie-pie green hats) who take pictures of the ‘rubes’ on their Speed Graphic cameras, to the little boy in a wheelchair struggling with his kite on the beach. Even the ghost of Linda Gray, who many claim to have seen, palms upturned, feels tangible and real.

“Is it really a ghost story?”
“I’ve never been in that damn funhouse, so I don’t know for sure. But it’s a murder story. That much I’m sure of.”

Although Joyland is undoubtedly a coming-of-age story set during simpler times and contains elements of both horror and the supernatural, there is a strong murder mystery underpinning it all. This is a Hard Case Crime novel through and through. Linda Gray visited Joyland four years prior to Devin Jones, with an older man who made sure to pull his baseball cap down low and never take off his sunglasses. He had a tattoo on one hand, and the other hand on Linda Gray’s behind. He was also wearing two shirts and carrying a pair of gloves. Halfway through the ‘Horror House ride’ – the only ‘dark’ ride in Joyland – the man cut her throat and threw her out beside the monorail track. The extra shirt, covered with blood, followed moments later, as did the gloves. Her body went unnoticed until one o’clock the next morning, and by that time the killer was gone without a trace.

Joyland works so well because it doesn’t make the crime the focus. It’s an intriguing story and Devin certainly senses something in the Horror House. But it’s an undercurrent rather than the tide. He’s a normal 21-year-old trying to find his place in the world. He isn’t ‘carny-from-carny’, but he fits in just fine at Joyland and soon starts to make a name for himself, whether ‘wearing the fur’ (a sweltering hot Howie the Happy Hound dog suit) or performing the Heimlich Maneuverer to save a little girl’s life. The owner of Joyland, Mr Easterbrook, couldn’t be happier when Dev decides to stay on beyond the summer months. Neither could Lane Hardy, one of the ride operators who takes a particular shine to the kid who has learnt to talk ‘the Talk’ with natural ease. Not long after, Dev meets the woman and the boy and the dog…

I wrote: Miss S. If you’re reading this something has happened to me. I know who killed Linda Gray. Others, too.
I wrote his name in capital letters.
Then I ran for the door.

Joyland is pulpy crime fiction with more than a touch of class. There are some staple King plot points and characters – the young child with an extraordinary gift is nothing particularly new or inspired, for example – but the entire mystery is written with such sincerity and with such a startlingly clear grasp of time and place that even the most extraordinary moments can be readily accepted, and at the very least forgiven. Stephen King previously wrote The Colorado Kid (a brilliant book that is sadly now out of print) for Hard Case Crime. That book upset some readers with its refusal to offer clear-cut answers, but Joyland finishes with a revelatory twist that is delightful. King should write more short novels like this: they fit him like a pair of blood-stained gloves. Step right up! Joyland is an absolute joy to read – pardon the pun – and the perfect summer read.

9 OUT OF 10

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