Saturday, March 22, 2014


What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Joyland (Titan / Hard Case Crime, 2013).

A funny thing happened - well, I think it's funny - that led me to pick up this recent short novel by Stephen King. It's really short, by King standards, under 300 pages. See, I'd read that he had written a work of pure detective fiction, without any supernatural or paranormal elements. He has, only it's not out yet. It's called Mr. Mercedes and will be released in a couple of months. I misunderstood and thought that the book had already been released, figured Joyland was the only recent suspect, and then got aggravated when people at an aging amusement park in eastern North Carolina started talking about a ghost.

The hero of this book is a young college student who doesn't see the signs that he's about to get dumped until it's too late. It's the early 1970s, and he's staying in a boarding house while working an offbeat summer job at an old, somewhat seedy amusement park, sweating buckets inside the costume of a great big shaggy dog mascot. (Incidentally, I can believe every word that King uses in his hilariously detailed and vivid descriptions of the workout one gets wearing one of those fursuits in the summer heat. My kids and I were at Six Flags Over Georgia once when Speedy Gonzales collapsed from the heat and was carted off in a wheelchair.)

While working, Devin learns about a recent mystery that's captured the attention of the locals. A young lady was brutally murdered while visiting the park a couple of seasons ago. Some of the longtime employees believe that the park is haunted. Maybe if Devin and his friends do a little investigating of their own, they can solve the mystery and let the spirit rest in peace?

Yeah, I know. It's the early '70s and some twentysomething kids are solving a ghost story at an amusement park. But while this could have been a pastiche of Scooby Doo - right down to "Fred" and "Daphne" stand-ins hooking up! - this proves to be a very clever coming-of-age memoir, more concerned about researching the path of a serial killer than being light-hearted and jokey. I was really impressed by how well King captured everything from the look of the park to the utter misery of first heartbreak. I have not read King in many years; if his recent material is anywhere as good as this, then there are quite a few books that I need to sample. Recommended.

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