AUTHOR: STEPHEN KING
PUBLISHER: HARD CASE CRIME
GENRE: CRIME FICTION
COVER TYPE: PAPER BACK
Joyland is a library book. It is King’s second novel from Hard Case Crime. His first novel was The Colorado Kid.
BLURB FROM THE COVER
College student Devin Jones took the summer job at Joyland hoping to forget the girl who broke his heart. But he wound up facing something far more terrible: the legacy of a vicious murderer, the fate of a dying child, and dark truths about life – and what comes after – that would change his world forever…
I had a car, but on most days in that fall of 1973 I walked to Joyland from Mrs. Shoplaw’s Beachside Accommodations in the town of Heaven’s Bay. It seemed like the right thing to do. The only thing, actually. By early September, Heaven Beach was almost completely deserted, which suited my mood. 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. People think first love is sweet, and never sweeter than when that first bond snaps. You’ve heard a thousand pop and country songs that prove the point; some fool got his heart broke. Yet that first broken heart is always the most painful, the slowest to mend, and leaves the most visible scar. What’s so sweet about that?
I like the way King structures Joyland. This short novel isn’t divided into traditional chapters. Joyland is split into numerous sections of varying length. King uses a cute little black love heart to indicate a new section. Some sections are set in the present with the main character, Devin, getting over his broken heart by working in Joyland. There are also some flashbacks that deal with charting the history of Devin’s now broken relationship. King effortlessly blends these flashbacks into the main narrative so I wasn’t even aware of a shift in time.
King’s characterisation is spot on in Joyland. Devin is the main character and he is the first person narrator. King does a great job of making him so vivid and real he almost steps out of the page. We learn about Devin’s first love and subsequent broken heart when Wendy falls for some other guy. We learn about his attempt to heal his wounds in Joyland, an amusement park that’s much smaller in scale than Disney and other resorts. A lot of this comes from Joyland being written in the first person. I was right inside Devin’s head from page one. Most of the other characters are just as good. King lets us get to know Devin’s closest friends, Tom and Erin who are also working in Joyland over the summer. The other, full time Joyland workers are all very well written. The characters in Joyland were perfect. I cared about each of them which made this short novel so enjoyable.
I was impressed by the sense of place King created in Joyland. He really brought the amusement park to life. I had vivid images of all the rides in my head. I could perfectly picture Wiggle-Waggle Village when Devin dressed up like the park’s mascot and entertained the kids. I could smell the popcorn and the ice cream and hot dogs. I quivered in the dark with Devin, Tom and Erin as they took the park’s horror ride on their day off and went through the tunnel where a girl had been dumped after her throat was slit several months before. Joyland was alive.
I really enjoyed the plot of Joyland even though it didn’t quite fit the ‘hard crime’ image of the publisher’s name. King offers a unique twist of murder mystery and ghost story with Joyland. The park’s horror ride is supposed to be haunted by the ghost of a girl whose throat was slit as she went through the tunnel by her ‘boyfriend’ and her body was dumped by the side of the tracks. Devin chooses to become a full timer after the summer and delays going back to college. Erin research uncovers other, similar murders in amusement parks all over the states dating back more than twenty years. All unsolved. The supernatural aspect comes from the alleged ghost of the last victim and the psychic powers of a young local boy, whose confined to a wheelchair and terminally ill. I loved Joyland because of this interesting blend of horror and mystery. I wouldn’t have enjoyed the novel half as much if it had been just a ghost story or a murder mystery.
King’s writing is on top form in Joyland. Every word was a joy to read. He created vivid, powerful images of the amusement park, the odd mix of characters, the mystery of the murdered girl and the other dead girls in different states. Joyland was a joy to read. I was shocked when King revealed the identity of the murder. I had no idea who the bad guy was. I love it when a writer takes me by surprise.
I wasn’t a huge fan of the ending. On one hand, Devin’s life is saved by Ann, the mother of terminally ill Mike just as the killer is about to finish him off. This was a very well written and dramatic scene. Anne arrived in the nick of time because Mike was visited by the ghost of recently deceased Eddie, an old man who operated the park’s horror ride. Not so good. Mike dies in the epilogue. I couldn’t help feel King was intentionally trying to tug at my heartstrings. This came across as contrived and unnecessary. King should have ended with Anne saving Devin’s life. This didn’t affect my enjoyment though.
I loved Joyland, absolutely loved it. This might be King’s best piece of writing in years. Joyland almost qualifies as a novella because it is so short. It felt much longer though. When I read the final page and closed the cover I felt I had just read through one of King’s epic 800 blockbusters. Joyland ticks all of the boxes. Great writing. Great story. Great characters. I need to buy my own copy. I wasn’t impressed by King’s first effort with Hard Case Crime, The Colorado Kid but Joyland more than makes up for it.