Joyland by Stephen King

Rating 9.0/10
A coming of-age/murder-mystery that will appeal to both teenagers and teenagers-that-once-were.

Devin "Dev" Jones is a college student with ambitions to get the girl, a decent job and a place to stay, but back in 1973, his life hadn't gone to plan. Dev believes that Wendy Keegan, his love interest, had never wanted to be involved with him sexually, keeping him hanging on, then announced she was leaving for another job in Boston. That is what made Dev stand back and think he might never get to make-out with the girl he loved. When Wendy leaves, Dev also looks for a job and one lands right in his lap as though it was meant to, straight out of a Carolina Living magazine which advertised Joyland, an old American theme park.

Not knowing whether he would want to be a Happy Helper or not, his soon to be boss lets him have a look around to decide whether he can be of use in one of the positions available. As Dev liked the place and their mascot he takes the job. Dev gets to meet many people who work at Joyland, one being Rozzie Gold, a woman who goes by the name of Madame Fortuna who does her best to tell him his fortune. Of course, no one believes her prophesying, but there is something about what she tells him and she sees danger in his future. Most of the people are decent, even great with him, but when he hears that the fun house is haunted, there might be some truth to the rumour.

Dev thinks he has come to settle in a home away from home, but the revelation of a gruesome murder happening at the fun house ride gives him cause for concern. Most would not be able to contemplate the sort of man who could take his girlfriend on the ride, brutally murder her and leave the scene without a second thought. From what Mrs Shoplaw said, the killer was sly and calculating, he hid his face well with sunglasses, a baseball cap and goatee, and as expected didn't like photographs taken of him. The awful truth is, the killer is still out there and the incident only happened four years ago.

Joyland is King at his best when he writes thrillers. He knows how to set a scene and reel a reader's interest in the story so that they can forget about everything else and concentrate on characters that they just might know: the boss at the theme park, the fortune teller, Wendy Keegan, or dare I say it, someone who is most like the killer - you never know. I like how normal the story begins, then when Dev is at his most relaxed, he finds out a killer is on the loose and he might not only go for slaying women.

If you look at the list of authors who have already written for the Hard Case Crime novels, you might recognise a few names: Roger Zelazny, Harlan Ellison, Robert Silverberg and Donald E. Westlake, so it's no wonder Stephen King, one of horror's most prolific writers, has decided to write a crime novel in this style. Interesting things that are additional in this novel are a cover by Glen Orbik showing the blonde woman who is in Dev's future, chapter breaks that come with black hearts and it is Illustrated in the classic 'mapbook' style by Susan Hunt Yule and twenty plus illustrations by Robert McGinnis, Mark Summers and Pat Kinsella.
Sandra Scholes, 9/10

I’m a bit late with this review as there are seemingly already thousands covering this book already available online. In fact, I can’t seem to remember a book having not only been so comprehensively covered but also, almost unanimously liked. And Joyland deserves the praise, but for me it has come as little surprise as King’s output over the last 2 to 3 years has been first-rate (The Wind Through the Keyhole and 11.22.63 being most worthy of mention).

But before I continue the review an admission: Stephen King is arguably the author I have enjoyed reading most during my life. From reading It as a teenager, to having just finished Joyland over twenty years later, I have found King to be both a highly skilled writer and one of the very best storytellers, not only of my generation but also of the current one too. Usually at this stage in an author’s career they can be forgiven for having lost that spark of creativity that made their earlier works so special - there are only so many ideas to go around after all – but King is not only writing at the very same high level he achieved in the 19070’s, he may even be writing better stories than ever.

Many King fans will know that he is not shy of writing a tome, and thankfully he has the necessary talent to keep those 1,000 page epics gripping throughout. But it may well be with the short-story format, or as is the case here in Joyland, with the shorter-story, coming in at less than 300 pages, that King is at his best.

The year is 1973 and college student Devin Jones has taken a summer job at Joyland with the hope of forgetting the girl who just broke his heart. But he winds up facing something far more terrible: the legacy of a vicious murder.

King has always done nostalgia well – he seems to be able to write about what if feels like to be a teenager better than a real life teenager themself could. He manages to put all those strong feelings into words, leaving the older reader sighing, “Oh yes, I remember”, and in Joyland he is once again able to lament for a time that has now long-since gone. There is a wistful feel to many of his works and sometimes he may be guilty of being overly-sentimental, but hey, there are worse things he could be.

Joyland is a coming of-age/murder-mystery that will appeal to both teenagers and teenagers-that-once-were. There’s a lovely pulp-fiction feel to the book and the characters are ones that are easily recognisable to us from within our own lives. I doubt this is the first review of Joyland you have read and I would imagine you have already found that it has been enjoyed by thousands. But if you are still hesitating about making it your next read I would like to recommend that you do so, you will not be disappointed.
Floresiensis, 9/10

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