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A Candy-floss Killer – Review of Stephen King Joyland

Do you like a good whodunit?

Stephen King’s latest novel about a serial killer and a traditional fairground is a departure from his usual dark horror territory, but it’s a swift enjoyable and cracking read.

review of stephen king joyland
Book cover

I’ve struggled with some of Stephen King’s recent novels which are over one thousand pages long. Joyland is short by his standards, at just under 300 pages, more like the short novels that appear in his story collections. As such it is an ideal summer read for the garden or on holiday by the pool with an ice cold beer in your hand.

For someone who grew up near Blackpool’s Pleasure Beach with its smells of candy-floss and popcorn; the rickety racket of old wooden roller coasters; the eery sounds of the Ghost Train and the screams of thrill riders, King’s book describes perfectly an imaginary seaside fairground in the USA. Thanks to his excellent prose it’s easy to see the Carolina Spin Big Wheel and the Horror House Dark Ride and the Thunderball coaster as the backdrop to a murder mystery.

Devin Jones is a student running away from a doomed romance who seeks solace for the summer at Joyland Park. He learns to run the rides, banter with the eccentric employees, entertain children by “wearing the fur” – a very hot and sweaty Howie the Happy Hound costume, and masters the “carny” – the secret language of the fairground industry.

Joyland employees tell the story of Linda Gray, a pretty girl whose killer cut her throat on the Horror House – a dark ride like Blackpool’s Ghost Train. Some of them claim to have seen her ghost and Devin becomes intrigued by the story. A little investigation reveals that there are more victims of the same killer. Who is he and most importantly does he work at Joyland? Is he one of its eccentric showmen?

Away from the park, Devin strikes up a friendship with Annie Ross and her terminally ill son Mike who he teaches to fly a kite. Stephen King creates a very convincing relationship for these three and within a few pages he coaxes us to believe in and indeed to love them. Mike might be able to see ghosts. Could he be the key to setting the troubled spirit of a murdered girl free so she can rest in peace at last?

Devin’s life in and out of Joyland come together in a satisfying reveal off the killer’s identity at the end, and an emotional conclusion to his friendship with Mike and his mother. It takes a skilful author to bring tears to my eyes but Kings last pages had me sobbing into a hanky.

Joyland is a joy. Part murder mystery, part romance, part carny history with a little touch of the supernatural to remind you that the master of horror wrote it.

Your turn: Do you agree with my review of Stephen King Joyland? What other books have you read this summer? Please leave a comment or a link to your own views.