Review: Joyland

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By Adam Armstrong

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King, Stephen. Joyland. Hard Case Crime (June 4, 2013). Paperback: 288 pages.
ISBN-13: 978-1781162644.

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Past his prime, over-the-hill, washed up … these phrases have been thrown around about Stephen King ever since his accident (and quite a bit before). There will always be a crowd that defends its first love (The Stand, The Shining, It). But the old pony may have a few tricks we haven’t seen yet.

In the summer of 1973, Devin Jones – Dev to his friends – decided to take a summer job working at an amusement park, Joyland. Dev’s heart is broken. His remedy is to work the heartbreak out like sweating out a fever. Along the way, he meets a cast of memorable characters, such as a fortuneteller who may or may not actually be psychic, a loveable businessman who cares more about selling fun than turning a profit, and a bowler-wearing jack-of-all-trades who tells him about a ghost in the ride aptly named ‘Horror House.’

Dev finds his work arduous but rewarding. Along the way, he makes lifelong friends, and learns more about the murder and haunting that took place in Horror House. Four years earlier, a girl named ‘Linda Gray’ had her throat slit and was tossed over the side of the ride, left to be found later. After some Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew-type sleuthing, Dev and his friends discover that the killer had a few other victims and is still at large.

College is a part of his life that doesn’t seem real to him, anymore, so he decides to stay on full-time. One night on his way home, Dev meets a young mother and her disabled son, Annie and Mike Ross. Though he begins to fall for Annie and her so, he can’t stop thinking about the killer. And the possibility that the killer is not only very close, but he knows Dev is on to him.

Overall, this wasn’t your typical King story of lovable characters thrown into impossible situations with plenty of things that go bump in the night. Most of what is on these pages could happen in real life, including people telling you about ghosts they’ve seen. It was in a similar vein as The Colorado Kid (Hard Case Crime, 2005), only much better.

I find reading the new Stephen King novels is similar to bringing out my favorite sweatshirt on the first chilly day of fall. Its smell reminds me of wonderful past moments; it is a welcome fit; and it wraps me up, battling the oncoming cold of the world.

Joyland is a page-turning whodunit. He drops plenty of hints, but hits you with a few twists and turns that will keep you from guessing before it is over. He hits all the right marks: chills when it’s scary, laughs when it’s funny – and yes (even though I try to be a stoic reader), tears when it is sad.

Joyland is not available as an e-book. So, you’ll have to go buy a physical copy. And when you’re done with it, give it to someone you care about.

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You can buy Joyland from Amazon.com.

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