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Joyland NEW COVERAuthor: Stephen King
Publisher: Titan Books £7.99 buynow1
Review By: Iain G

I’ve enjoyed a different side of Stephen King’s writing lately. After ploughing through the epic Dark Tower series I got hold of 11/22/63, his recent time-travel-save-JFK novel and found them both not only compelling and enjoyable, but also highly addictive. And yet neither of these carried the same kind of horror and shocks that we’d come to expect from much of King’s writing; they were just essentially stories.

So with the release of Joyland I expected things to take a trip back to “classic” Stephen King – the dark theme park ride where a murder had been committed, reports of ghostly sightings in the tunnel, a front cover which portrays the horror genre just as strongly as any that have gone before. But go into Joyland expecting nail-biting horror and you’ll still be waiting when you turn the final page. That’s not to say it’s not a good read, but it’s certainly not what I expected.

Devin Jones if your storyteller, looking back at a time in his 20s when he decided to abandon his education for a while to work in a theme park called Joyland. As a park which, according to the owner, “sells fun” the fact that a gruesome murder took place in one of its main attractions would ordinarily bring things to a halt, but not so with Joyland. Linda Gray was the victim in question, getting her throat cut by her boyfriend and thrown out of the cart during a pitch-black section of the ride. She was found the next morning along with a blood covered shirt and a pair of gloves, and the killer was never found. Devin’s story takes place four years down the road, and with various employees saying they’ve seen a ghost in the ride matching Gray’s description, he takes a massive interest in figuring out just who might have done the killing.

The other characters both in and away from the park are well thought out and entirely convincing. Madame Fortuna, the fortune teller who may or may not have some genuine psychic ability, adds a brilliant “will it or won’t it come true” element to various strands of the storyline, and the inclusion of a seemingly unrelated mother and son pairing becomes more and more relevent and intriguing as the book pressing towards its later moments. Likewise the kinds of things that Devin gets up to in his spare time – locking himself away with some engrossing books and moping around while tormenting himself over a crumbling relationship – make it all too easy to associate with his life and develop an emotional attachment to him and his friends, and in doing so make the action-packed closing sections heart-thumpingly exciting.

And yet by this point I was starting to get confused. Having read nothing about Joyland beforehand, I was fully expecting the ghost of Linda Gray to start terrorising the theme park, or bringing untold horror to the nearby residents. And yet, as mentioned earlier, this isn’t a horror story. It’s a carefully written and engrossing mystery novel, and had I gone into the book knowing not to expect anything outlandish and terrifying I may have been able to look on the story with slightly less expectant eyes. I still thoroughly enjoyed reading it, but I mentioned to a couple of people mid-way through that I was still waiting for it to get going, and in retrospect it was already at full flow; it’s just that Joyland’s full flow is a slightly less feirce pace than those that have gone before.

So after 11/22/63 and Joyland can we assume that Stephen King is starting to step away from the horror genre and focus on something slightly less aggressive? Definitely not – with the sequel to The Shining due out later this year we’re bound to be handed something that we’re more accustomed to from King, but in the meantime he’s sending out some equally impressive work. It might not have the same gripping horrors as we’ve read previously, but Joyland is still an excellent read, and well worth picking up for another demonstration of the depth and quality of Stephen King’s repertoire.

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