I love Stephen King. I do. His novels shaped my formative years. I read It when I was a teenager and never looked back. And while he has occasionally terrified me, I think the horror writer tag does him a huge disservice. He’s a latter day Mark Twain, I think. Nobody spins a yarn like King does and even when the yarn doesn’t add up to much (like in Duma Key, for example), there’s never any doubting the quality of his craft.
Joyland is the second novel King has published for the Hard Case Crime imprint. This time, he’s equal parts ghost story, murder mystery and a coming of age story. Devin Jones narrates in the first person, telling us about the summer he worked at the titular theme park, driven there by heartbreak only to become embroiled in/obsessed with an unsolved murder that took place on the ghost train ride at Joyland.
Anyone expecting King to hit the ground running and this to be an all action noir is in for a rude shock. The pace is leisurely, the characters and relationships filled in at length and in depth. The minutiae of day to life at Joyland and carny language is fully represented. And that just makes it a true delight to read. I was engrossed from page one, and I cared about all the characters in the book.
The sub plot concerning his foxy neighbour, her dying young son and said son’s psychic abilities culminates in a scene which properly made me well up. It’s really truly beautiful and by the end, the “sub” is dropped and it becomes clear that it’s been the main focus all along. This is a truly unexpected delight. Well, the terms of the delight were unexpected. The delight was a foregone conclusion.