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First published in 2013 by Hard Case Crime, Stephen King's "Joyland" was a book I was keen to get my hands on as it was one of very few of his titles that I didn't own. I eventually managed to pick this book as part of a 2 for £7 offer which I thought was a more than reasonable price giving the fact that the cover price of the book was £7.99. I feel the cover price of this book is far too expensive and doesn't represent anywhere near good value for money as unlike other Stephen King novels this is quite a short story running at just over 280 pages. Had this not been available on special offer I feel I would have left this book on the supermarket shelf despite being an avid Stephen King fan, fortunately for me this was not the case.
Joyland tells the story of Devin Jones a New Hampshire university student who takes a job at a North Carolina amusement park during his summer break from university. Having worked the carny circuit for the summer Devin decides he will take a year out from his studies to stay on at the park during the closed season. Whilst he is at the park the fortune teller that works here tells him that he will meet a boy with a dog, and a girl with a red hat, as well as the fact that one of these children will have "The Sight". Upon investigating the fortune that he had been told Devin also discovers that a young girl was murdered on one of the rides and that her ghost still haunts the ride she was murdered on.
Devin meets a disabled boy with a dog who he passes most days on the beach whilst he is on his way to work at the carnival who after investigating the haunting at the carnival decides that he really does have "The Sight" and is able to see the girl who was murdered. Devin is given the job of "wearing the fur" and dressing up as Howie the Hound the carnivals mascot and whilst doing this saves a girl with from choking who just so happens to be wearing a red hat. This adds weight to the fact that the fortune teller tells him that the park is haunted by the murdered girl and is most of the reason he decides to stay on at the park after the open season and investigate further.
Eventually Devin gets talking to the boy and his mum due to taking a shine to the boy's mother and soon clicks that the boy he has met has the sight that the fortune teller had warned him of. Whilst working at the carnival Devin investigates the murder of this girl, and soon finds that everything is not as it seems and by making friends with the carnival staff has left himself far more entwined in this mystery than maybe he ever wanted to be. Due to the young boy not having long to live Devin arranges a day at the park for him whilst it is closed, getting permission from his boss mainly because of his act of saving the girl in the red hat from choking.
This is the point where the separate strings of the plot are bought expertly into one by King and the point that I will stop writing about the plot to avoid the risk of any real spoilers. The story seems straight forwards and leads the reader to think that they know most of what is going on, yet in typical Stephen King fashion the twists that are left until the end are most unexpected and take the novel in a very dark direction. Overall the plot of this novel is very well thought through indeed with no loose ends at all come the end of the story leaving the reader feeling that although a short novel it is also a very complete one. The blurb on the back of the book promises this story to be "a mystery, a horror story, and a bitter sweet coming of age novel" which I couldn't have put any better myself hence the reason I'm quoting it here.
Joyland for me was a nice change from the usual Stephen King novels which are usually a lot longer than this; it was refreshing to know before I started the novel that this wasn't a book I would have to set a massive amount of time aside to read over a period of several weeks. Despite the fact that this novel is short it is, as one would expect from King extremely well written and manages to convey the story very well indeed with very few wasted words. After I had finished reading this book I felt as though I had indeed read a full length Stephen King novel due to the quality of the writing and story contained within the creepy looking 1950's style cover.
I wasn't sure that I would enjoy this book at first after reading the information supplied on the back cover, but the age old fable of not judging a book by its cover is most certainly true in this case and I was most glad that I didn't pass this book up. I enjoyed the story along with the fact that whilst not exactly a light read due to the pace and incredible amount of plot squeezed into the book it was also quite a quick read compared to other King novels.
Overall I would have to say that this Stephen King novel is well worth a read but only if it can be picked up on offer, second hand or from the library, because as mentioned whilst selling at the cover price I feel that it really is quite overpriced. I feel that Hard Case Crime are trying to take advantage of the vast following of avid Stephen King fans that they were hoping would rush out and purchase this book at full price.
The storyline and plot show Stephen's King excellence at writing within the horror genre, and I am sure that there are very few fans out there, or even those reading a King novel for the first time that would feel let down by this captivating story. The way it is written evokes emotion and intrigue which kept me turning the pages and resulted in me being late back for work at least once as I wanted to finish the chapter I was reading on my lunch break meaning I completely lost track of time.
So in summary a book that is well worth a read but only worth the money being asked if can picked up on offer, on the merit of the story alone this book is most definitely worth a full complement of stars, but unfortunately due to the high cover price that has been printed on the rear of this book I am afraid that is only a 4/5 star rating from me but still a book that is well worth recommending.
"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.