Each time a new King book is released I end up lurking around the postman like a rabid Cujo waiting to bite his hand off if he doesn’t release my parcel quickly enough. Unwrapping that cardboard sleeve to see the treasure within is, for me, an unparalleled pleasure, that new book smell and still-shiny unsullied cover adding to the excitement that comes with starting not only a new book, not just an unread King book, but a JUST RELEASED THAT DAY Stephen King unknown book...
‘Joyland’ was great in this respect, the bright colours and retro cover caught my eye like sweeties in a glass jar, the glossy paper finish catching the light and just begging to be read there and then.
So I did.
This is King’s second publication in the ‘Hard Case Crime’ series, which was founded in 2004 to focus on publishing hard-boiled crime fiction, both genuine noir, and modern interpretations of the genre. From Donald E. Westlake, Mickey Spillane, and Ed McBain, through to authors including Michael Crichton (writing as John Lange), Robert B. Parker, and Christa Faust, this series enjoys the best of many great authors, whether or not this is their typical style.
King initially collaborated with them for his 2005 novel ‘The Colorado Kid’ and this new release has been hotly anticipated. If you like crime fiction and King’s work, you’ll be in crossover heaven.
Firstly, this is much shorter than the majority of King’s work (though longer than ‘The Colorado Kid’). In keeping with hard-boiled detective fiction, the language is pared-down and sparer than his typical lengthy prose, but really this is the only similarity I can draw without fishing for painful commonalities. I enjoyed this book, but it’s not your typical crime, not your typical detective (there is a lead character filling the role of ‘crime solver’ but detective he is not), and not your typical setting. I love the fairground as the location, as close to clichéd as it is for a horror author, it gives a great atmosphere that flies around your imagination in glorious Technicolor. King revels in creating an idiomatic language used between the fairground carnies, and, as ever, treats us to fabulous dialogue and graphic description. And that, I suppose, is the true reason this still reads as a hard crime novel – the stark and craven pictures King can draw from just a handful of words, the banal mixed with the ridiculous, a sparsity of words leaving room for the imagination to take over.
Personally, I saw a lot of similarities between this story and King’s 1998 work ‘Bag of Bones’, and felt he was drawing from a similar emotional well when writing both.
I won’t spoil this for you if you’ve not read it, as it’s such a recent release - you too deserve to come to it fresh and eager, with few expectations except for the pre-released blurb and cover, and to form your own take and your own opinion. I do feel though, this is a better foray into this field than ‘The Colorado Kid’, which I enjoyed at the time but now struggle to recall in much depth. ‘Joyland’ paints bright and gaudy mental pictures that will linger after the words themselves fade, the crime element will hook you, but the fairground tawdriness will pull you back in for a second go-round.