Sunday, June 16, 2013

Joyland by Stephen King: book review

Joyland by Stephen King. Titan/ Hard Case Crime £7.99

Reviewed by Peter Coleborn

I haven’t read a Stephen King novel in a long time, just short stories and novellas, which I rather enjoy. And to be honest, I’m often deterred by the size of some of his novels – The Dome, for instance. Thus getting my hands on Joyland, at a mere 280 or so pages, should’ve been a delight. Well, was it? In a word: yes!

However, the first 60-80 pages are mostly scene setting, and the story proper doesn’t start until then. That’s when Devin’s character – the narrator – blossoms. That’s when the relationships with his friends and co-workers at Joyland come into their own. That’s when the story of the murdered Linda Gray (killed in the 1960s) really begins to impinge on Devin’s life.

Devin Jones takes a job at Joyland in the summer of 1973. Joyland is a fairground, with rides and stalls and a ghost train, and a fortune-teller who does, in fact, have some psychic abilities. And in the House of Horrors: that’s where the ghost of Linda Gray is sometimes seen. He also encounters another psychic, this time a crippled 12-year old boy called Mike, and his mother Annie.

Devin becomes fixated on the murder of Linda Gray and soon discovers that there are other murdered girls, a connection that the police had missed. Needless to say, the story of Linda Gray becomes entwined with Devin losing his girlfriend and his growing relationship with Mike and, especially, Annie. And it all builds up the expected climax as a tropical storm heads towards Joyland.

Because those early pages were written in such an easy-going, engaging style it soon didn’t matter that they were mainly exposition for the following narrative. In truth they become essential background reading and once your engagement in the story kicks in you, the reader, will be hooked, and drawn into the delights – and horrors – of Joyland.

Although published as part of Titan’s crime line, Joyland could easily be read as a supernatural tale. Stephen King is a past-master at story telling. He’s a bard who is able to build dark and frightening worlds, spinning yarns that net in the audience. A thoroughly satisfying read, however you interpret it.

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