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Joyland - Stephen King Step right up, step right up, ladies, gents and children of all ages...

So another example of Americana becomes a casualty of time's remorseless advance. Like drive-in theaters and video arcades, carnivals are going the way of the dodo bird. Oh, I'm sure they still exist, but chances are they are nothing like how I remember them. I imagine they have been sterilized of their vaguely seedy appeal. No more creepy dudes with porn-actor mustaches running the games. No more Blondie blasting over the loudspeakers at the bumper cars. No teens with feathered haircuts necking behind the tents. No more lingering scents of weed wafting across the way  (not that I knew what weed smelled like when I was nine). Joyland is Stephen King's tribute to the carnivals of yesteryear and if you're looking for a setting for murder you really can't beat a carnival.

Hoping to recover from a failing romance, college student Devin Jones takes a summer job at a North Carolina amusement park called Joyland. While Joyland offers its share of amusement, it also offers its share of mystery and danger as Devin stumbles upon an unsolved murder and finds himself far closer to the solution than he would like to be. When it comes to death there is no height requirement for this ride!

Published by Hard Case Crime, Joyland is less "hard case" than "Hardy Boys," and less "Hardy Boys" than a coming-of-age-type novel. It reminded me a lot of Joe Lansdale's A Fine Dark Line in feel, although somewhat less successful in execution. Joyland suffers a bit from an identity crisis: it doesn't seem to know exactly what kind of a novel it wants to be. It succeeds at being an okay mystery/thriller and an okay story about a young man's awakening into life's more heartbreaking moments, but, being divided in this way, it excels at neither of these things. I read somewhere that Stephen King doesn't outline-- he just writes and works it out as he goes along. It's apparent in many of his novels and it is apparent here. There's even a bit of the supernatural thrown in for good measure. All in all, Joyland is a bit too scattered to really be considered top-tier. Does that mean it's a failure? Hell no.

King's greatest weakness (his tendency to ramble and write himself into corners) is, ironically, one of his greatest strengths. The man is a natural-born bullshitter, a master raconteur and you can't help but be entertained and moved by his writing. All the criticism I wrote above, that all came to me after I was done with the book and was thinking back on it. While reading, little of that occurred to me and I enjoyed Joyland all the way.

If you're expecting a straight-up crime or mystery novel, then you may be somewhat thrown off, but I doubt you'll be disappointed. I think it is said best in one of the blurbs on the inside cover from The New York Times: "Stephen King is so widely acknowledged as America's master of paranormal terrors that you can forget his real genius is for the everyday." 

So take a seat, Pete, and draw a bead on this read! Mystery, magic and mayhem await!