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Joyland (Hard Case Crime) Paperback – June 4, 2013
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An Amazon Best Book of the Month, June 2013: What a smart, sweet, spooky, sexy gem of a story. In this one-off for the Hard Case Crime publishing imprint, King has found yet another outlet and format (print only, a zippy 280 pages) to suit his considerable talents. All are on full display here in the story of Devon Jones--"a twenty-one-year-old virgin with literary aspirations … and a broken heart"--who spends the summer of 1973 at Joyland amusement park in North Carolina. Devon makes new pals, proves himself to the hard-core carny workers, saves a girl’s life, befriends a dying boy (who has a secret gift), and falls for the boy’s protective, beautiful mother. The first half of the story is sweet and nostalgic, with modest hints of menace to come. (Think: “The Body,” King’s novella that became the film Stand By Me.) Devon learns to “sell fun” and “wear the fur” (carny-speak for dressing as Howie the Happy Hound, the park mascot), but he also learns about the woman who had been killed in the Funhouse, whose ghost still haunts Joyland. King has fun with the carny lingo--most of it researched and real, some of it invented. (The Ferris wheel, for example, is the chump-hoister.) The second half gets spookier, spinning into a full-on murder mystery--but also a love story, and a coming-of-age-story, with some supernatural fun woven in. More than a trifecta, this is King at his narrative and nostalgic best. A single-session tale to savor some summer afternoon. And then try not to keep thinking back on it. --Neal Thompson
As with King’s first release with Hard Case Crime (The Colorado Kid, 2005), this is an uncharacteristically svelte offering that feels born of a weekend whim but is nevertheless possessed with an undeniable offhand charm. In the summer of 1973, 21-year-old Devin stumbles into a job at a North Carolina amusement park called Joyland, where he operates rides, mops up vomit, and “wears the fur” (dressing up as park mascot Howie the Happy Hound to amuse the kiddies). Bittersweet interjections from an older Devin lend the story an aching nostalgia, and between the chummy carny-chatter (terms like gazoonies, fump, and donniker fly fast and furious) and meaningful first times (losing his virginity, a crushing breakup, etc.), a fantastical mystery gradually emerges. Devin befriends a dying 10-year-old whose psychic hunches help hunt down the murderer of the ghost girl who haunts the park’s Horror House. Until the ghoulish climax, this reads like a heartfelt memoir and might be King’s gentlest book, a canny channeling of the inner peace one can find within outer tumult. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Small-press, paperback-only, yes, but King is still King. --Daniel Kraus
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This character driven mystery is one of those gems. It is a murder mystery with just a bit of the supernatural. Also, for readers of a certain age, this story, set in 1973, can bring back memories of a different era, when amusement parks and carnivals were an entertaining but tawdry world, full of fun with an underlying current of danger.
I was not sure that I was going to really like this book at first, since the early pages put a lot of emphasis on carnival lingo. However, I found the characters to be so interesting and was quickly invested in the plot. Stephen King has such an ability to bring his characters to life and make readers care about their outcome. The suspense is sustained until the very satisfying ending.
Since it's Stephen King there's a ghost and psychic powers a la "The Shining" involved as well. Most of the story is really well done. The part where the girl in the red hat chokes on a hot dog felt like a punch to the gut emotionally.
The murder part is actually the weakest aspect of the story. The final confrontation felt so cliche that all the bad guy needed to say was "If it weren't for you meddling kids..." and it could have been an episode of "Scooby-Doo."
Still, it's a very good book overall. More the Stephen King of "The Green Mile" or the Richard Bachmann novels than "The Stand" or "It" or his horror novels. So don't go into it thinking it's a horror book.
That is all.
The story’s protagonist, Dev, is a college kid who had just gotten his heart broken by his college sweetheart. He spends the summer far from his university working at an amusement park in North Carolina. The park has a haunted house type of ride that is actually haunted from a woman who was murdered while going on the ride—and that is the heart of the mystery in this novel. What shapes the story is when Dev sees the park’s fortune teller, who actually has some psychic ability, and she tells him that a young boy and girl will figure prominently in his future. As it turns out, this young boy, besides suffering from a debilitating disease, also has psychic abilities, and figures in his quest to solve the mystery of the haunted ride murder.
This was an enjoyable novel. It was really strong from a characterization standpoint. There were very memorable characters, from Dev on through numerous side characters. Although the mystery element was well done, most of the book did not focus on that part of it. Most of the book focuses on his evolving as a person and his relationship with the crippled boy and her mom—both of whom are also standout characters. I liked the supernatural parts of it, and thought it meshed well with the mystery. The one negative was a groan-inducing part at the end that involved the reveal of the killer, but otherwise this was a satisfying novel.
Carl Alves - author of Battle of the Soul
Now, close your eyes and get a feel for what a writer of King's caliber can do with the premise of a young wholesome college kid dropped into the edgy setting of a Theme Park; Carnie folk; a murder in the Horror House ride; A ghost and serial killer; A young wheelchair bound boy; Heartbreak; and the wonderful beachside setting of the Carolinas.
The cast of characters pull Devin, and the reader, along as the plot unfolds. Lane Hardy runs the Carolina Spin, a huge Ferris Wheel, and gives a lot of fatherly advice. We have a Fortune Teller who may actually know a thing or two. Devin lives in a rooming house on the beach owned by Mrs. Shoplaw who also has insight into the goings on at Joyland. Also residing in the boarding house are Erin who is a Hollywood Girl photographer (see the great cover art) and his new buddy Tom.
The day-to-day work-a-day world and jargon of the characters in this small time carnival atmosphere is so interesting that the reader soon feels like an insider. Central to the plot is the mystery of a murder that is eerie and disturbing but keeps the novel moving along.
If I need to find a fault to round out my appraisal it would only be that the main character is telling this tale from 40-years after the fact so the reader knows that nothing fatal of life or limb transpired back when he was coming of age in Joyland.
I am a fan of Stephen King but this is only my second Hard Case Crime book and I found both excellent. In fact, after finishing this one I went on line and bought a couple more. Great writing, great premise.
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