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"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.