Hard Case Crime is a publishing imprint dedicated to re-creating the look and feel of the old pulp crime novels and paperbacks of yesteryear. The series features work by contemporary authors with painted covers designed to look like vintage paperbacks. They are marketed as "hard-boiled crime fiction" and promise detectives, dames, and bare-knuckled action and adventure.
But "Joyland" is a Stephen King novel. As such, though there is indeed a crime to be solved, it is filled with more of his usual fictional tropes than it is with bare-knuckled adventure. Not that this is a bad thing. Mr. King does what he does very well, and "Joyland" is no exception.
By Stephen King
Hard Case Crime ($12.95).
Devin Jones, now on the verge of retirement, recounts his adventures in the summer of 1973 when he worked at a rundown amusement park called Joyland. That summer was, as the saying goes, the best of times and the worst of times for Dev. On summer break from college, Joyland provided an escape from his first broken heart.
Although the work was hard, Dev also found a measure of magic and healing in the carny life. He met new people who would turn into lifelong friends. He discovered talents he didn't know he had. He learned to care for other people and how to help them find fun in life.
Devin's most regular job that summer was dressing as Joyland's mascot, Howie the Hound -- known as "wearing the fur."
Devin thought the large dog suit looked a lot like Scooby Doo. It was a nod to the fact that by the end of the story, the villain would have gotten away with it if not for some meddling kids.
The unsolved murder of a girl in the story took place in the haunted house ride at Joyland more than 10 years before Devin worked there. Now it is little more than an oft-told tale used to add mystery and drama to the carnival. It is said that the ghost of the dead girl still haunts the ride.
And of course, this is where the book becomes more of a Stephen King tale than a hard-boiled detective story. The supernatural plays a bigger role in the story than classic detective work.
Mr. King's regular tropes are on display. Some people can see the ghost, which leads to clues. A young boy with special knowledge and psychic powers proves the primary catalyst not only for the solution to the crime but also to Devin's growth as a man.
Although the story's action-packed climax takes placed on a Ferris wheel in a windstorm, "Joyland" is more of a coming- of-age-story than crime fiction. It is Mystery as Memoir and has much more to do with the complexities of life and living, and the death and dying that goes along with it, than it does with murder.
The murdered girl is a MacGuffin to hang the plot on more than an essential part of the narrative. Like Mr. King's short story "The Body," on which the movie "Stand By Me" was based, the body has very little to do with the story he wants to tell.
If you pick up "Joyland" expecting Raymond Chandler or Mickey Spillane, two of the great pulp crime novelists this series claims to emulate, you may be disappointed. If you're looking for a good Stephen King book that pushes all the buttons he is good at pushing, then "Joyland" makes for a great summer read.