Joyland (Hard Case Crime)
by Stephen King
Amazon rating
Critique Circle rating 
PublisherHard Case Crime
Release Date2013-06-04 (added to CC 24 Jun 2013)
Amazon Sales Rank1


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

"I love crime, I love mysteries, and I love ghosts. That combo made Hard Case Crime the perfect venue for this book, which is one of my favorites. I also loved the paperbacks I grew up with as a kid, and for that reason, we’re going to hold off on e-publishing this one for the time being. Joyland will be coming out in paperback, and folks who want to read it will have to buy the actual book."Stephen King

Member Reviews
(14 May 2017)
I felt it was a decent King drama coming of age story. And yes, I have to agree with Henrygasko that it was kind of weak on the mystery side. To me, that was the only reason I gave it four stars. It should have been placed as a 'coming of age' story instead of in the mystery genre. And I didn't really find it all that 'pulply.' What I expected before reading it was more of a hard boiled detective novel. Nope, that's not what I got. But overall, it's still a still decent and touching story. Those who enjoyed such stories as 'The Green Mile,' 'The Body,' 'Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption,' and the novel, 'Hearts in Atlantis,' will appreciate this story. And of course, die hard King fans.

And yes, could it have used some content editing? Of course. But if anyone is familiar with Stephen King, this is style. And you know what, he's the one making the billions folks. So kudos to you, Mr King. I'm still a fan.
(7 Apr 2017)
Ostensibly about a murder and a possible paranormal connection, with the ghost of the victim sometimes seen by people as she haunts the amusement park ride where she was killed.

But really, it is another coming of age story – the type that King is very fond of. This time it is a college student rather than a younger kid. And the main character is growing up in the 70’s, just about the time when King was in college. And there are lots of coming of age clichés – first lost love, first sexual encounter with an older but still stunning woman. Not so much what it actually is like growing up, but how we would all like it to have been.

The set up is also familiar – a man looking back (again, another writer) from the future to the distant past. This allows the other cliché of dropping hints of impending troubles without the need to give anything away. So lots of foreshadowing. Because, basically, the story is not very exciting.

The basic plot is the college student goes off to work for the summer at an amusement park, leaving his girl friend behind. There he quickly learns the banter and the routine (lots of background about amusement parks). He is told that there is a mystery – a girl was murdered in the tunnel of fright some years ago, and some people claim to have seen her still haunting the place.

As he works there for the summer, not a lot happens. There is the increasing distance from his girlfriend, his friendship with other workers, getting to know the routine, etc. He is given hints about the murder and that he will play a significant role in it. He also notices (very briefly) a mother with her crippled son who live in a large house on the way to his work; the son seems friendly but the mother is distant.

He saves the life of a young girl with the Heimlich manoeuvre, making himself a local hero. He gets the brush off from his girl, and decides to stay on after the summer. One of the other workers who has gone back to University helps him investigate the murder, and discovers that it is one of string all associated with amusement parks in the south. Meanwhile he gets to know the woman in the big house and her son. Turns out the son also has the “gift” of sight (just like the fortune telling lady) and gives him further clues about the murder.

Around this time, the woman starts to warm towards him. The son has an incurable illness, the mother is estranged from the rich father, etc. In time, they sleep together a couple of times. Meanwhile the Uni student gives him the packet of evidence, and suddenly it all clicks in his mind – the murderer is one of the current co-workers.

But somehow the murderer has seen him with the packet of evidence and knows that he is onto him. He threatens the woman and her son before the hero has a chance to call the police. This leads to a final scene on the Ferris wheel in an approaching hurricane. The murderer confesses everything, but is killed by the woman (who has been warned by a vision that her son has seen), and who was established earlier as a crack shot.

There is also another scene of him saving the life of an older worker through mouth to mouth, someone that no one really liked. The worker dies later in the hospital anyway but not before the hero has visited him. And it is possible that his spirit gives the hero some help during the final confrontation.

The final scenes, though improbably melodramatic, are fun. But it is sometimes hard work reading through the long establishment scenes of the hero’s maturation, and glancing ahead to see that there are a hundred or more pages to go. A bit of a slog, even though King tries to keep things happening by releasing information from the future in dribs and drabs (“If only I had known then that ….”)

The best bits are the local colour of the amusement park. Though Disney and others now dominate, it is easy to imagine that there were a string of such parks throughout the South in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, and that they slowly died out with the rise of the super-parks. But there is a lot of well-imagined detail about the park (themed around dogs, with the worst job being the “fur” suit in hot weather – very much like Anne’s brief stint in a costume). Lots of lingo (real and imagined) and some details about the actual mechanism of the attractions, and the attitude of the staff to the patrons (condescending but basically good-natured – after all, they pay the bills).The shtick with the girls in skimpy costumes wandering around and taking pictures to sell seems out-dated even in the 70’s but that is part of the attraction – this is a park that is failing to keep up with the modern world and is dying. And it makes for a good (albeit inaccurate) cover drawing of a stunning red-head in a short and busty costume, looking terrified (the actual murder victim was a patron and not a camera girl, and none of the camera girls, esp. the red-head, are ever threatened).

There are all sorts of scenes that could probably be cut without affecting the story too much. For example: last dinner with Dad before going off for the summer (from Maine to South Carolina); being told several times about the dreaded fur; lots of telephone conversations with the increasingly distant girl friend. All add to the ambience of the story, but slow it down a lot. You have to accept that this is not a thriller but a coming of age story with some action and mystery thrown in (because King still does not believe he can write a straight novel? Surely not – he has done it a couple of times with Dolores Claiborne and possibly others. But he was probably commissioned to do a murder mystery, and he probably realized that the underlying story of the murder mystery and attempts to solve it are pretty weak. So it made sense to pad it with the coming of age story.)
(13 Dec 2014)
(3 Sep 2014)
(16 May 2014)
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