By Stephen King
(Hard Case Crime, Paperback, 9781781162644, June 3, 2013, 288pp.)
The Short of It:
Campy amusement park goodness.
The Rest of It:
Devin Jones, recovering from the heartache of losing his girl, takes a job at an amusement park during the summer of ’73. The park in question has lost its shine. It’s lure is the fact that it’s old fashioned fun with your typical rides and carnival attractions but each years it’s a struggle to keep things going. You have your long time employees such as Lane Hardy and Madame Fortuna, but the lifeblood of the park seems to be the kids that work there over the summer.
Devin finds himself a room to rent and meets Erin and Tom. Both students trying to make a little money over the summer. They become his family while at Joyland along with a host of regulars to keep things interesting. But what interests them the most is the murder that took place at the park years ago. Linda Gray and her boyfriend visited Horror House together but only one of them came out alive. Rumor has it that Linda’s throat was cut by her boyfriend and her body was thrown aside for employees to find later. The case was never solved but the repeated ghost sightings of Linda herself pique the interest of Devin and his friends. Enough for them to want to investigate the murder themselves.
Fans of Stephen King know that he writes a lot more than horror and this is one of those times. I think it’s safe to say that Joyland has been marketed as crime fiction and it is that, but only in the very loosest sense of the term. It’s not much of a “who-done-it” as there isn’t a whole lot of suspense to keep the story going. In fact, much of it felt a little lazy to me… lazy in the way a long, hot summer can be. The relaxed nature of the story seemed to take center stage, not so much the anticipation of solving the crime itself. Joyland was more of an experience, than a story to me but that’s not a bad thing. King has a way with setting the stage and the stage he set was welcoming to me in some odd way.
When the story meandered a bit and a young boy with a serious illness was introduced and ended up playing a central character in the story itself, I knew then that the murder was really just a backdrop for the summer that Devin needed to experience in order to move on to the next stage of his life. Truthfully, I didn’t mind this but Joyland felt more like a novella than a novel which left me wanting a little bit more.
Calling this a ghost story is a real stretch so if you pick it up for that alone, you might be disappointed. BUT, big but, it’s classic King. He knows how to paint a scene and he knows his characters. I love the little catch phrases he uses repeatedly throughout his books, too. It gives you a sense of existing within whatever construct he’s created on the page and you are successfully taken out of his world, and put into his world, often front and center.
Overall, it was an entertaining, fun read. I loved the amusement park lingo and the overall sense of place that King created but as crime fiction, there was little in the way of suspense and the resolution was rather anti-climactic. Not one of my faves but worth reading nonetheless. Especially for readers who have shied away from King before. This would be a good book to read as an introduction to King’s work.
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