By Stephen King

Hardcase Crime Novels

Titan Books

283 Pages

Review By Rick Amortis

Devin Jones is a college student trying to find himself. After his girlfriend progresses from aloof to elusive, he relocates to the sleepy hollow of Heaven’s Bay. Answering an advertisement for amusement park help, he soon joins the team of carnival workers at Joyland. Something seems dreadfully amiss within the midway. According to local folklore, a spirit resides within the haunted house ride. A girl was murdered in cold blood while on the ride and the case remains unsolved numerous years later. Will Devin get past the bone chilling feeling of being watched at the carnival? Will the spirit from beyond finally bring her killer to justice? Uncover the truth found within the scents of cotton candy, the dazzling neon lights and unbridled thrill seeking screams in Joyland.

Whether you’re a fan of America’s number one contemporary author, a cynical critic or indifferent altogether, one cannot deny Stephen King’s unprecedented ability to tap into the imagination of John Q. Public. The human behavior, observations, emotions, anecdote and psyche of everyday, ordinary people is depicted with such realism it’s difficult not to get lured deep into the heart of the story. Joyland can be described as a heartfelt coming of age tale for one Devin Jones. It’s about broken hearts, the loss of love and progression from being a boy to manhood.

The genre of crime drama, although somewhat foreign to King aficionados, is not entirely unchartered waters. The success of The Colorado Kid (also from Hard Case Crime Novels) could only be segued into future crime oriented novels as apparent in Joyland. For those keeping cinematic score, The Colorado Kid was adapted into a television series called Haven.

A setting such as a carnival is an intriguing choice. We’re fascinated by its allure. The element of excitement contributes to sound plot escalation as we strive to find out more about the behind the scenes and way of life for Carnies.

The interpersonal relationships between Devin, his co-workers and new friends alike are complex and multi-layered. Their interactions enhance the plausibility of the tale, accentuating the realism. The friendships within are comparable to the everyday amiable acquaintances we have in each of our lives. Inevitably we explore, further sensing a piece of ourselves within young Devin. His experiences resonate long after the final page is turned. The only thing I dislike about King’s writing is the feeling of sorrow that cannot be denied realizing the final pages are on verge of consumption. One does not want the adventure to end as it becomes personal, much like the summer camp experience as a child. Upon first day of arrival you’re excited, anxious and perhaps even a little ambivalent of the unfamiliar ground before you. By the end of the experience you simply do not want the adventure to end as the familiar sense of emptiness begins to unveil itself. King’s novels and stories are one in the same. His ability to appease his constant readers is second to none and his writing is so fine-tuned I’ve never absorbed anything quite like it since.

The plot is gritty and multi-layered without being patronizing like some mysteries can be. Steady rise of tension with oodles of surprises around every corner are indicative of an effective crime drama reminiscent of the pulp fiction era. We don’t anticipate the final act which makes this tale worth the price of admission alone.

King should be commended for his maturity and ability to evolve over the years as an author. His versatility is staggering. While we’ve each sat awake late at night pondering the creepy terror laced tales such as Carrie, The Shining or Under The Dome, he’s also proven time and again his finesse in penning a significantly effective drama to tug at the heart strings of fans wanting something more. To truly understand these sentiments I recommend picking up Dolores Clairborne, Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption or Hearts in Atlantis. His characters have progressed along with the times as well. Rather than the stereotypical vulnerable women as his protagonists, we’ve met a wide myriad of individuals with varying ethnic backgrounds, age, sex, social class and the developmentally challenged. His diversity and molding a realistic society enhances the suspended sense of believability further and making it no mystery as to why and how his readers adapt to moniker constant readers.

About Russ Thompson

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