Stephen King’s house of horrors

Joyland will probably be remembered as a minor entry in Stephen King’s impressive collection of books, but even minor (not to be confused with second-rate) King is more addictively readable than most contemporary authors. The new novel, released in paperback, doesn't have the epic sweep of Under the Dome or the intricate structure of 11-22-63, but Joyland is not unlike hopping on to one of the rides at the amusement park in North Carolina where most of the book is set. You just hold on and wait for the thrills.

The novel is part murder mystery, part ghost story. It has many of the elements that have become Mr. King’s literary trademarks over the years: a small town setting, a sympathetic child (who shares Danny Torrance’s gift for shining), an array of colorful secondary characters, a mascot of sorts -- in this case, Howie the Happy Hound -- and a particularly vicious murderer on the prowl.

The murder at Joyland has attained the status of legend in Heaven’s Bay. A woman by the name of Linda Gray got more thrills than she bargained for during her trip through Horror House when the mysterious guy she was with cut her throat. The killer was never apprehended, but the crime bears a resemblance to other murders of women in the South.

Horror House attracts a number of morbid vacationers every summer. Some of them swear they have seen Linda Gray’s ghost beckoning towards them from the shadows. It isn't an image that Bradley Esterbrook wanted to promote when he built Joyland, but it is a feature they can’t replicate at Disney World and every dollar counts.

Devin Jones is trying very hard not to read too much into his girlfriend’s decision to “spend some time apart.” (An appropriate vampire metaphor would be a stake through the heart.) While she works in Boston for the summer, he takes the job at Joyland, where he displays an immediate affinity for donning the suffocating Howie costume and charming the little tots with their adoring eyes and melting ice cream cones that overrun the place like the driftwood that litters the nearby beach.

As is often the case in Mr. King’s novels, a shamelessly sympathetic element is entered into the narrative. In Joyland, it is the person of a wheelchair bound, terminally ill, 10-year-old, who possesses a remarkable gift for knowing things that aren't at all apparent to anyone else.

Devotees of Mr. King -- and we are legion -- are not going to find anything particularly groundbreaking in Joyland, but the book, like the place in which it is set, is mostly designed for entertainment. On that score, Howie the Happy Hound could give Mickey Mouse a run for his money any day.

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Joyland By Stephen King Cover Image
$14.95
ISBN: 9781781162644
Availability: Click Title for IN STORE Location
Published: Hard Case Crime - June 4th, 2013