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JoylandReviewed by Marcus Hammond

There are special moments in life when we get a chance to reminisce about all the wonderful, stupid, and heartbreaking experiences from our adolescence. These special moments shine when things get too dark and heavy. The nostalgia of this situation is a focal point for Stephen King’s new mystery, Joyland. The novel is one part detective novel and one part coming of age tale that proves King is not just a master of horror and suspense, but also of capturing the human condition.

Devin is a college student who tries to navigate the complex world of emotion that surrounds him while finding an identity that fits. In an attempt to get away from his stagnant social life and his first broken heart, Devin takes a job at an amusement park in coastal North Carolina. As he begins to find separation from the heartache of the past, Devin begins to unravel a murder from Joyland’s past that has long gone cold.

A much older and wiser Devin, who looks back on his summer at Joyland with the wisdom and clarity only afforded those who have had many years to contemplate life lessons, narrates the entire story. This retrospective approach helps convey significance to each event in the story. Early in Devin’s experience at Joyland he dons the mascot costume, which is the most hated of all the amusement park jobs. Devin, however, excels at playing the hound dog and he begins to learn how important creating, sharing, and experiencing happiness is. This lesson eventually links to other significant events, when Devin begins caring for a young crippled boy and his mother. This event helped Devin both leave his broken heart in the past and begin living in the present.

The surprisingly emotional and realistic character development seamlessly enhances the secondary mystery/suspense theme that works into the story later in the novel. While Devin’s maturing process is central to the story, the years old murder that he begins to investigate allows King to include a bit of the violence and horror that he is most well-known for. Devin’s curiosity about the murder eventually leads towards a violent climax that is best described as classic Stephen King writing.

It was surprising to find such emotional depth within what was publicized as a straight out mystery novel. It is easy to connect with Devin as well as many of the secondary characters as King develops this descriptive, entertaining tale of personal growth and murder.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

After obtaining a Masters in Liberal Arts and Literature Marcus has dedicated most of his time to teaching English Composition for a community college in the Midwest. In his down time, he spends time avidly reading an eclectic selection of books and doing freelance writing whenever he gets the chance. He lives in Kansas with his wife.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Hard Case Crime. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.