Stephen King might be the master of Horror, but here he turns his hand to crime fiction and this is a great story.

I don’t like the Horror genre at all, so I’m rather surprised to find myself writing a piece about Stephen King, the master of all things Horror. Until a few years ago I’d never gone near King’s books, but then I discovered that, on occasion, he writes both crime fiction and sci-fi/fantasy. They are two of my favourite genres… so what’s not to like about that?

Joyland is the second crime fiction novel he’s written for a series called Hard Case Crime (the first being The Colorado Kid). Some of the books in this series are written by modern-day authors to resemble the hardboiled crime novels of the 1940s and 1950s; others are by genuine old-time crime writers. All have been published with cover illustrations that closely resemble what readers would have found on the front cover of a crime book back in the day.

The story
Set in a small-town amusement park in North Carolina in 1973, Joyland tells the story of the summer in which college student, Devin Jones, comes to work there as a ‘carney’ and confronts the legacy of a vicious murder and the fate of a dying child; and recounts the ways both will change his life forever.

The story is set in a small-town amusement park called ‘Joyland’ in North Carolina in 1973. College student, Devin Jones, is working there for the summer, trying to recover from a broken heart, having been dumped by his girlfriend through a particularly callous ‘Dear John’ letter.

As a general helper at the park Devin is learning the ropes of the Carnival, entertaining the younger visitors in a furry hound suit and finding out how to run all the big rides. Slowly he becomes what the old-timers call a ‘Carney’ – a carnival natural. He also makes new friends, among them a couple of other summer student workers, Tom and Erin, and most of the staff of the park as well as his landlady. Dev is described as a kind and personable young man.

Some years earlier the park had suffered a tragedy when a young woman was viciously murdered during a ride on the ghost train. The police never found her killer and she’s said to haunt the ghost train, although only a few people have seen her. To the summer workers like Dev it’s all a bit of a lark, until his friend Tom sees the ghost and is shocked to the core of his being. Dev and Erin don’t see the ghost, but Tom’s terror is so real that they begin to investigate. Chillingly they discover that over the last 10 years there have been a number of similar murders at other amusement parks and carnivals all over the Southern States. The police never made the connection but when the killer discovers what they know the scene is set for a confrontation.

There is, of course, a lot more to the book than this, but this is always the difficult point in a review. How much to reveal? Too little and nothing makes sense, too much and the ending is spoilt. So, I’ll just suggest you read this book to find out!

From my view
I really liked this book a lot. I haven’t read many of King’s books, but he has a very distinctive style. Straightforward but oddly moving. Dev comes over as a thoroughly nice young man, Tom and Erin are also described well, and so are most of the carney people. The dialogue and descriptions are littered with carnival slang but this never rings false, it just fits right in.

There’s also a supernatural element to the book, and not just Tom seeing the ghost. But again, this does not feel false. The amusement park is so well-described that I could almost feel myself wander down the Avenue, hear the music, the bells and the screams from the big rides, and feel the searing summer heat. 

I won’t be giving anything away when I say that Dev does get over his broken heart. But you should read the book to find out how. This is a terrific novel and I give it 4+ Stars.
Review by: Freyja

P.S. King has written another book for the Hard Case Crime series called Later, which will be published in March 2021.