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Joyland (Hard Case Crime) Paperback – June 4, 2013
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This is one of those stories that leads you gently in; introducing the main character, flawed and vulnerable, and making you wonder what could possibly be so interesting it takes a book to tell the tale. Devin Jones is a likable and relatable character. Nursing a broken heart, the college student gets a job as a “carny” at an amusement park called Joyland. It’s summer in a small North Carolina town and Devin signs on at the amusement park in Heaven’s Bay. King sprinkles the story liberally with the language of carnies, “the talk.” Every character steps forward with a unique identity as mysteries unfold. And the mysteries are both scary and heartwarming. King has an uncanny ability to blend the tender with the violent, the sweet with the bitter, and the every day with the nightmare.
Devin Jones may be the narrator of the story, but there is a hell of a lot more to this than the adventures of a “twenty-one-year-old virgin” and a summer job at a small, local amusement park. Joyland may be the place families gather for fun, but there is far more to the place than Howie the Happy Hound, Happy Helpers, a fortune teller named Madame Fortuna (Rozzie Gold), Hollywood Girls with cameras, and the Wiggle Waggle Village. There’s Horror House. Every amusement park and carnival has one, a scary ride. This scary ride is extra special. Horror House was the scene of a murder; an unsolved murder. And that unsolved murder left a little something behind; the ghost of Linda Gray. Here lies the first mystery.
Stephen King can’t leave that mystery to stand alone, although it is a good one. There’s also the little boy in the wheelchair, the woman, and the Jack Russell Terrier that live in the big house on the beach. King artfully weaves these stories together, delicately connecting the dots. But even when I thought I knew the answer (and that happened more than once), I was taken by surprise. When the climax finally came in a hair-raising ride in the middle of a storm I was sitting up in bed practically hearing the thunder and watching the lightning flash.
Alongside the King horror is the poignant story of a young man inexplicably cast in the role of hero and detective, a mother and a boy with a special gift, and the pain of love and loss. As I said, King has an uncanny ability.
Whether you are a Stephen King fan or not, if you enjoy a solid mystery with vibrant characters, read Joyland.
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.
Top international reviews
There’s a few things to say about King - Firstly, he’s entirely type-cast as a horror author. This book refutes that. Secondly, he sets scenes and builds character like no-one else in the game. Thirdly, he writes tales of youth and nostalgia so cinematically it’s impossible not to be immersed in the action.
On a podcast the other day, I heard it said about King - “He writes places and characters so well, that when he writes something into the narrative like a psychic child, or a ghost, or something paranormal, you can accept it because of the realism of everything else going on. The craziness becomes plausible because of the normality of the world he’s created”.
This book is not gorey. It’s not remotely scary. What it is, is a tale of a man looking back on the summer he grew up, how he overcame his first lost love (which unless you married your high school sweetheart, we’ve all been through!), and interwoven was a couple of sub-stories which actually allowed this book to have a decent climax.
Not a word was wasted in this book, the prose entirely beautiful and nostalgic, the tales funny, witty and charming. And then, in the rarest of rares, Stephen King finished a story perfectly, and second rarest of rares, I had tears streaming down my face.
As I read this book, I had my review in mind, it was headed for a solid 4-star from very early on, but that last 10% had me standing up and applauding.
This is King at his best. Struggling off the “slasher” tag and taking us on a beautiful emotional journey. This feels like a shorter, warm-up for 11/22/63, which is a must read if you loved Joyland!
From there we start to learn more about Joyland, and the people behind it. Although it's billed as a horror story, there isn't much blood, and the horror is contained in the 'dark ride' and the fragility of human life. The suspense and anticipation comes from the idea that this horror could be released somehow. This tension builds throughout and the ending will not disappoint.
I don't want to write more and risk spoiling the plot, but this book touched me and stayed with me. The last few pages were read through teary eyes. You will find part of yourself in this book, the part of you that you lost years ago and can never get back.
This book outlines the tradition of King as a horror / fantasy writer into a writer of thriller novels and personally I think that he is one of the greatest authors of thrillers that I have ever had the privilege of reading. I look forward to reading more of his books and waiting with bated breath for King to write more and more thrillers in the future.
With a Stephen King novel there are certain expectations. Horror, supernatural, characters from Maine and they are all present here but don’t really come to the forefront until the final act. An even then almost as an afterthought. Instead most of Joyland is spent with Devin as he works at the titular theme park over a summer trying to get over a heartbreak. All the while being told of a mysterious murder that took place in it’s House of Horrors and the ghost that subsequently haunts the place.
It’s obvious that King has done his research into theme parks and the history of carnies, perhaps too much so. He shoves it all in the book; going into minute detail into the running of a theme park, the language that carnies use, how the rides work etc, to the detriment of the plot, the solving of the murder, which is gasping for a foothold in the story and when it finally does later in the book it is almost too late. And it’s no surprise that this is where King comes into his element, with an exciting finale taking place in a storm battered Joyland.
More disturbing than the fascination with theme parks was King’s attitude towards women. They are broad archetypes and add little to the narrative past being objects for Devin to be attracted to or repulsed by. It was if he was trying to ape the pulpiness that the Hard Case Crime books are, and refer back to but it doesn’t mesh with modern sensibility. I haven’t read much Stephen King so this might be an exception rather than the rule but it left a sour taste.
Like many of Stephen King’s books Joyland attempts to mix the macabre with a coming of age tale, but in Joyland he phones it in and fails on both counts. He veers too far into telling a coming of age tale and showing off his research rather than what we want in a Stephen King novel, mystery.
I wasn't sure what to expect from Joyland with its pulp fiction cover. I can't say why, but I resisted buying it until I saw that it was a 99p offer on Kindle. I'm so glad that I took the chance. Its fantastic! It paints a warm picture of carnival life in the early 70's. It reminded me of Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes and Dean Koontz, Twilight Eyes. Where there is a dark secret behind the paint, chrome and spangles of the carnival life! Its a supernatural detective story. For King fan's it reminds me of the early scenes in The Talisman of a young boy and his mother at the beach and also King's novella, The Body, with its coming of age story. Its also a eulogy for independent fairgrounds and of a lifestyle that was coming to an end with Disney and other big operators forcing the small fairs out of business. It reminds me of early Springsteen songs like Sandy and Born to Run. The book as got a great hero, great supporting characters and an exciting mystery story.The perfect summer read.
This is a fantastic read. I couldn't recommend it more than enough!
The story gets you attached to the main characters very easily, due to King's brilliant writing skills. Which leads you to a very climatic ending which leaves you shocked and amazed!
The story is set in 1973 but actually feels like something from the late fifties or early sixties to be honest, so some of the period detail isn't as convincing as in some previous King novels; but that's a small gripe in the overall scheme of things. The book rattles along wonderfully, and you cannot help but be sucked up by the story, such is King's skill at shaping a world you don't want to leave for too long.
I'd agree with other reviewers here that Joyland doesn't fit particularly well into the Hard Case Crime genre - it's more than a crime book in so many ways, and the lurid cover illustration mis-represents the story King has to tell. That said, Hard Case Crime is producing some cracking good reads, so Joyland fits the bill in that regard. Predictably, the Kindle version loses some of the visual impact that Hard Case Crime books present in terms of appeal and a throwback to the pulp era, but you pays your money etc... Yet one more example of the power of good storytelling when in the hands of a master practitioner.
It's a murder mystery, a (slight) supernatural tale, and a coming of age story. It has characters that make you care about them. It made me laugh, it made me cry, and it was a sheer delight to read. I have no doubt that in years to come Joyland will be recognised as one of King's finest novels. Highly recommended.
Still, this one was going cheap (very unusual for a King novel) so I gave it a try....and enjoyed it. It's certainly not a horror story (I've never thought of King as a true horror writer anyway....) but rather a crime story....a serial killer in fact....with perhaps a few whisks of the supernatural thrown in. Most of it is quite a gentle story of students working their summer vacations in a funfair on the East Coast. King does this very well.....taking the reader back to the early 1970s with the pop music if the time blending in with the razzle-dazzle, noise and smells of show grounds and funfairs....and of course the love life and hormones associated with young student life.
All in all a gentle, simple, but pleasing story.....I felt I was there....and the fact that there is the odd ghost in the background and some folk with extra-sensory perception seems to blend in quite naturally. A good read.
I thought this was a departure from King's horror and fantasy writings - as if he'd written it for the pleasure of trying a different genre - and as a result of his writing pleasure it becomes a pleasure for the reader too. There are some strong thinking points hidden in the pages of this book and it's one that I didn't want to put down till I reached the last page.
What ever scene Stephen King is setting it really comes alive! I swear I could smell the popcorn and sea air ,hear the noise of the rides , the squeals of the children and see the gulls fly overhead.
Joyland is a story about a young man who has recently fallen on hard times in regards to his love life. Having decided to shake up his life and do something completely different he finds himself in a new town and a new job at Joyland. Joyland is a park like a smaller version of Disneyland and it has a history and some of those who work there believe it is haunted by a previous visitor to the park who had a tragic experience there.
The story from the beginning is just sooooo good. The main character Devin Jones is a hard working , loyal, sweet guy who is very likeable and trustworthy and great to have around in an emergency. As the story goes on we get to know more about his past and it only makes you like him even more. His dad is equally lovely but we don't get to see as much of his character.
The story is not terrifying in a jump out of your seat type of way. It is more subtle then that.. it will creep up silently making you feel uneasy , a little uncomfortable and a little relieved that you are reading it from your armchair/under duvet/ bubble bath. This story had everything I wanted in a book and left me with a lump in my throat.