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Bookends: Spooky carnival rides and kites connect in this mystery February 5, 2015

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends.
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Bookends: Spooky carnival rides and kites connect in this mysteryJoyland

By Dan Davidson

August 6, 2014

– 768 words –

 

Joyland

By Stephen King

Hard Case Crime

288 pages

$12.95

 

 

Stephen King often applies his talent to help favorite causes. He likes the Hard Case Crime project, which pays homage to the old style noir detective stories, complete with those lurid covers that made you want to wrap them in brown paper. This is the second short novel he’s done for this group, the first having been The Colorado Kid (2005), which was adapted into the successful TV series, “Haven”.

“Haven” got to be seriously weird and mystical very quickly, but the book itself wasn’t that way. In fact, there’s more spookiness in Joyland than there was in The Colorado Kid, and yet this is not a horror story, though it is a bit of a ghost story.

Really though, it’s more of a growing up story, the first person narrative of Devin Jones, age 20, told to us by the much older Devin Jones, who is reflecting on the year that changed his life.

In the memoir it’s 1973 and Devin has just had his heart broken by his high school sweetheart, Wendy. He gets a summer job to finance his college education at a theme park called Joyland. He becomes friends with Tom and Erin, two other students, and he becomes attracted enough to carny life that he decides to stay on for a year and put some cash away, since he really hasn’t figured out what he wants to do with this life.

Devin becomes a favourite of the carnival’s owner and a number of the regulars and gets to be very good at wearing the fur, which is doing a stint in the dog suit that represents the fair’s mascot, Howie the Hound. You’ll never look at Sparky or the Parks Canada beaver quite the same way again after reading about Devin’s adventures in the fur.

There is a ghost story connected with Joyland, having to do with a mysterious murder that happened in the tunnel of horrors. It’s never been solved, but every so often someone will claim to see the ghost of the young woman who died and she seems to want them to do something.

The second mystic influence is the fortune teller lady, Madame Fortuna, who foretells that Devin will meet a woman, a boy and a dog. He does. He meets Mike, who is dying of MS, his mother, Annie, and their dog. Mike seems to have acquired a touch of psychic powers along with his illness. With the help of his carnival friends Devin arranges a special day at Joyland for Mike, who has never been able to visit such a place. It is a magical day in more ways than one, in that Mike’s presence frees the ghost of the murdered girl.

It’s magical for Devin as well, in that he has a “Summer of ‘42” (look up the movie, folks) sort of night with Annie, who is about 10 years older than he is. They have been growing closer as friends and remain that way afterwards, but she seems to feel he needs his own type of Joyland experience. When Mike dies later in the story, Devin assists in the scattering of his ashes, the last of which go up on a kite.

Oh, but I mentioned the murder, didn’t I? Devin and his two younger buddies are fascinated by this, though Tom is scared off the story after a ride through the tunnel when he sees something he will never talk about. Erin, like Devin, wonders about the killer, and both of them do enough sleuthing to discover that there were other carny murders and that there seems to have been a pattern, though it also seems that the series has stopped, with the last killing being the one at Joyland.

Quite by accident Devin finally figures out who the killer has to be and so the last part of the book is a tension filled carnival ride that brings several threads in the story to a very dramatic conclusion, even to bringing in a ghostly visitation that saves Devin’s life.

This book is King at his most concise. Anything under 300 pages is tightly plotted in this man’s oeuvre. Even those bits that I thought might be a little padding turned out to be important to the story, and that story is more about the relationships among half a dozen people, as well as their individual growth, than it is about the murders or the ghosts.

 

-30-

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