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It was almost inevitable that Hard Case Crime would want a second Stephen king story. After all, their first collaboration, "The Colorado Kid" is their highest selling title and the TV series loosely based on it, "Haven", is coming to an end after five series. Hence, in 2012, Stephen king's "Joyland" became Hard Case Crime's 112th publication.
The Joyland of the title is an amusement park on the cost of North Carolina. This is where Devin Jones has secured a job for the summer of 1973. Even battling through a broken heart thanks to an ex-girlfriend, he does a good job, finding a particular talent for "wearing the fur" and decides to stay on for another year as a permanent park employee, a position his bosses are keen to grant after he saves a little girl's life.
Apart from some depressing thoughts, Dev has a pretty good summer. But he had an even better autumn; losing his virginity, saving another life and, with help from his friend Erin , looking into the murder of a young girl whose ghost is supposed to haunt the Horror House ride.
"Joyland" is an excellent piece of writing from King. It's a lot tighter and less meandering than is true of much of King's writing, which helps keep the story on point and engaging. Devin Jones is a wonderful narrator and there is a very smooth tone and pace to the novel, even in its more energetic or suspenseful moments. Although the tone isn't entirely "noir" or "hard-boiled", as many of the Hard Case Crime books are, it is an evenly paced, laid back narration which makes this a very readable story.
As well as being a decent story, the characters are very likeable. Unlike those in many horror stories, they all feel real and he ones who stretch the boundaries of "real" the furthest are the carnival workers and any wrinkles there can be explained away by that fact. This is a story where it is particularly easy to suspend disbelief in large part because there is very little that needs to be suspended.
Indeed, there was even one point in the story where I suddenly found myself desperately hoping that Dev would be successful in his current endeavour. It is very rare for me to become that involved in any novel and serves as an example of how well King is able to render his characters both realistically and to be so likeable that you find you have a genuine interest in and concern for them.
King manages to put a little bit of everything into "Joyland". Inevitably, there is joy, but there are also moments of heartbreak, friendship and intrigue although there isn't, it has to be said, an awful lot of horror.
Over the years, I've found that the King novels I've most enjoyed have been the ones that have stepped away from pure horror writing. That is again the case here, with "Joyland" always remaining a pure joy to read. It's even more of a joy for Kindle owners, who can get a copy for £2.99, as opposed to the £5.19 from Amazon for a paperback version, or even those who would buy a used copy from 91 pence plus postage, such are the postage costs. That said, however, no matter what the price, it's worth a look.
"Don't judge a book by its cover", or so the saying goes. And in the case of Joyland that's a very good piece of advice. Based on the cover (and the publisher - Hard Case Crime), you would probably expect a noir detective novel, perhaps something in the mode of Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe. What you actually get is a fairly typical Stephen King supernatural thriller.
Not that this is a bad thing. Whilst Joyland might be a little different to some of King's recent efforts, its main focus (how the supernatural might impact on the lives of ordinary people) is pure King and has at least some elements in common with novels like The Shining, Stand by Me and The Green Mile.
Devin Jones is a college student. Whilst working at a funfair as a summer job, he gets to know a young boy and his mother and becomes fascinated with an old unsolved murder and ghost tale. Unknown to him, both will have a major influence on his life.
Joyland is Stephen King at his best. He takes a story in which (if you boil it down to essentials) very little happens and turns it into a tale that you just can't put down. It's a slow-burning thriller; one where the main elements of the plot are introduced very gradually and the overall drift of the plot only becomes clear over time. Yet this gradual drip feeding of information does its job very effectively. Rather than being frustrated at the apparent lack of progress, you become intrigued and fascinated with what is happening; as anxious to get to the bottom of things as Jones himself.
It's helped by the fact that the characters are so likeable. Devin Jones is a charismatic young man, likeable and charming, as are his co-workers at the funfair. OK, so perhaps Jones is a little too goody two-shoes (particularly for his age - an age when all of us can be quite self-centred!), but he's so damn likeable you can't even hold that against him! King gives a real sense of life to everything, bringing both characters and the fictional Joyland to life. Of course, it's a rather romanticised version of life as a "carny", but again it's none the worse for that. Novels are meant to be a form of escapism; to suggest that other jobs are more interesting and exciting than your own, and that's what Joyland provides.
When it comes to the writing, Joyland is one of King's more straightforward novels. Most of the characters are fairly one-dimensional (you could argue stereotypical), but that actually benefits the book rather than spoiling it. Since it contains a fairly straightforward story, it needs fairly straightforward characters and writing - exactly what King provides. There is enough detail to give you a sense of what working in a funfair might be like (with the emphasis on the "might"), but he doesn't over do things, providing so much detail that you drown in extraneous information. Comments in the next paragraph aside, Joyland is almost perfectly paced.
If there's a major criticism, it's that the ending feels rushed. There are two endings: the first sees the unmasking of a killer; the second the fate of a young boy. It's this latter element which isn't developed sufficiently and so lacks the emotional impact it should perhaps have. The book also leaves a lot of questions unanswered, particularly around the fate of some of the key characters after the events of this book. I ended the book feeling like I wanted to know more. Sometimes that is a good thing (it's always better to want more than for something to overstay its welcome), but in this instance I felt the book lacked adequate closure.
Joyland was a real pleasure to read. It might not be quite what I expected from the cover art, but I think that actually heightened my enjoyment. I approached Joyland with a little trepidation: I don't particularly enjoy noir thrillers and I wasn't sure that King's style would be suited to one. Thankfully, what you see on the cover is not what you get inside. This is a typical King effort and whilst it might not be his greatest work (possibly not even in the top 20), it will appeal to his long-term fans whilst remaining highly accessible to newcomers.
Hard Case Crime, 2013
(C) copyright SWSt 2013
In the clowns, paranormal activity and death King is often overlooked for his ability to write human feelings and relationship, he was the man who wrote The Green Mile, after all.
Devin decides to take on a job at a small theme park during a summer between school and college in the 1970's, a recipe for a heartache. Upon arrival he learns of the ghost that lurks in the haunted house, the spirit left of a woman murdered there. A murder that was never solved but unravels throughout this story.
Horror fans may be disappointed as this is less about horror and more about friendship, getting over first loves and that stage between childhood and adulthood. The horror is just a device to bring various characters together, in fact that clairvoyance theme is far more chilling.
You are so engrossed with the characters that you barely realise that very little has happen, much like authors like Nick Hornby the plot doesn't run quickly but the development of characters do. The setting of 1970's and the fact Devin is a wannabe writer shows the connection between the young protagonist and the author.
Its not until the final few chapters the murder mystery really comes into play.
On a side not how awesome is the cover, it really drew me to the book.