Joyland – Stephen King (2013)
I had a car, but on most days in that fall of 1973 I walked to Joyland from Mrs. Shoplaw’s Beachside Accommodations in the town of Heaven’s Bay.
A student takes a year off from college to work in a beach-town amusement park, which is haunted by the ghost of a girl whose murder was never solved.
Note: There are some spoilers in this review.
Just released in paperback on the Hard Case Crime imprint, Joyland reminds Stephen King fans why we love his books so much. It is not so much a horror story as a bittersweet coming-of-age tale that happens to have a ghost in it (although neither the narrator nor we readers ever actually see this ghost).
Joyland is set in the early 1970s, in an amusement park in a small North Carolina beach resort town, a setting that King brings fully to life. He invents a small but fully fleshed out cast of characters who talk in the colorful language of the carnival (whether real or made up by King, I don’t mind), using phrases like “wearing the fur.” The narrator, Devin Jones, comes to love Joyland, and King makes us readers love it too. The historical setting tinges the book with nostalgia, in a good way, as it is told by a older man looking back on one of the most important times in his life.
The plot is fairly straightforward. Devin discovers that a girl was murdered in the park’s House of Horrors. The murder was never solved, and some people have seen her ghost haunting the murder site. After his roommate too sees the ghost, Devin becomes interested in solving the murder. When his college girlfriend dumps him, he decides to stay on after the summer season and help the skeleton crew close down the park. Then, he befriends a single mother and her child, who is gravely ill.
Of course, the murderer is revealed in a final twist, which though I didn’t see coming, didn’t surprise me too much either. There is a suspenseful climactic scene on a ferris wheel. The novel ends on a melancholy note, but softened by the passage of time. I ate this book up in just a few days, and I loved the way it hearkened back to a simpler time with a simpler story. It’s a good beach read, but it will be a great fall read, when we all tend to think back on our carefree summers.
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Tags: Amusement parks, City and town life, Cold cases (criminal investigation), College students, Crime fiction, Detective and mystery stories, Ghost stories, Hard Case Crime, Joyland, Mystery fiction, North Carolina, Stephen King