Released in June 2013, Joyland
is Stephen King
's second novel for the Hard Case Crime imprint, following The Colorado Kid
(2005). The novel is primarily a murder mystery/thriller, but considering who the author is, it should come as no surprise that there are significant supernatural elements involved, too.
The novel is set in the summer and autumn of 1973 and follows Devin Jones, a twenty-one-year-old college student from New England who takes an extended summer job in a North Carolina amusement park (the Joyland of the title) after his first girlfriend breaks up with him, leaving him heartbroken. As Dev begins to make friends and learn about the carny way of life, he also becomes fascinated with an unsolved murder which took place in the park four years earlier, and the House of Horrors which is reputedly haunted by the victim's ghost.
Joyland provides examples of:
- Alone with the Psycho: Dev, at the climax of the novel.
- Amusement Park of Doom: Subverted, all things considered. Even with the legacy of the murder hanging over it, Joyland is for the most part a happy and well-intentioned place and the ghost that haunts the funhouse isn't malicious or deadly but just wants to 'move on'.
- Bittersweet Ending: Linda Gray's spirit is laid to rest and her murderer is finally discovered, but Mike eventually succumbs to his illness and dies.
- Coming of Age Story: As well as being a mystery/thriller with supernatural undertones, the novel is very much this for Devin.
- Contemptible Cover/Sexy Packaging: Perhaps done intentionally given the pulp throwback style that Hard Case Crime specializes in, the cover puts emphasis on one of the "Hollywood Girls" wearing a short dress which, while not inaccurate, has little to do with the main story. Even more blatant is the limited edition's cover◊ which features a woman in a bikini wielding a shotgun and has nothing to do with the plot.
- Cool and Unusual Punishment: The Carny Killer takes Dev for a midnight ride on the rickety Ferris Wheel while a hurricane blows in.
- Cool Old Lady: Rozzie Gold and Mrs Shoplaw.
- They're both actually more like Cool Middle Aged Ladies, but since Dev and co. are all twenty or twenty-one they definitely see them this way.
- Chekhov's Skill: Annie's exceptional marksmanship - including the fact that she won numerous shooting trophies at summer camp in her teens, her hunting trips with her father, and her success at the Joyland shooting gallery despite not having practiced for years - become very important when Dev ends up Alone with the Psycho.
- Distant Finale: While narrating the story in 2013, Dev occasionally has cause to explain what's happened to him, Tom and Erin, and a few of the other characters in the intervening forty years.
- Notably, though, none of these revelations actually take place during the book's concluding sections, but are interspersed throughout the story whenever they occur to him, causing him to go off on something of a tangent.
- Fake Russian: In-universe, Rozzie Gold when she's in character as Madame Fortuna.
- First Love: Wendy is Dev's. It seems like The First Cut Is the Deepest, too: despite romances with Annie and a classmate named Jennifer, Dev reveals in the Distant Finale that - despite being a hopeless romantic for whom marriage was a big priority - it took him ten years to settle down after Wendy broke up with him. Even into his sixties, he's still a little bitter about their break-up.
- Former Teen Rebel: Played with - Annie actively tried to be a good Preacher's Kid as a teenager despite her lack of faith, but rebelled once she entered college as a young adult.
- Freudian Excuse: Dev's theory is that the Carny Killer murders his dates because he's unable to perform sexually. A theory he expresses to the killer's face, while they are alone together and the killer very much has the upper hand. Annie arrives and shoots the guy before he makes any comment, so it remains speculation.
- Ghostly Chill: Dev feels one in the House of Horrors when he reaches the spot where Linda Gray was murdered, but admits that this may be a result of suggestion rather than a genuine ghostly manifestation.
- Goofy Suit: Dev is made to wear "the fur" — a suit of the carnival's mascot, Howie. Despite the sweltering conditions he's forced to perform in, he generally has a positive experience from it given the reactions he garners from the kids.
- The Hero: Despite being a typical everyman in most respects, Dev ends up regarded as one by almost everybody, and for good reason. During his few months working at Joyland, Dev saves two lives - he prevents a little girl from choking and is on hand when a co-worker has a heart attack - and that's before he caught the serial killer who'd evaded justice for over a decade. (Although Erin and Annie played equally important roles in the latter.)
- Hot Mom: Annie Ross.
- I See Dead People: Just one manifestation of Mike's powerful psychic abilities.
- Tom is the only one of the three friends to see Linda Gray's ghost during their trip through the House of Horrors; years later, he's still angry and confused about why she appeared to him and no-one else.
- Ill Boy: Mike Ross's doctors estimate that he has less than a year to live. They're right.
- Meaningful Name: The fact that Annie is a crack shot leads to a number of Annie Get Your Gun references. Even further Lampshaded when she plays a game at Joyland's shooting gallery, which is named Annie Oakley's Shootin' Gallery.
- Nice Guy: Tom Kennedy easily wins over everyone he meets by the sheer power of his niceness.
- Dev admits that Erin's second husband is probably one too, but can't bear to meet him even years after Tom's death.
- Official Couple: Dev's co-workers and housemates, Tom and Erin, very quickly become an item. The Distant Finale reveals that they got Happily Married, but that Tom died of a brain tumor in his late thirties and that Erin has by now remarried.
- Our Ghosts Are Different: Most people who see Linda Gray's ghost assume she is either a slightly creepy waxwork model in the House of Horrors (due entirely to her outstretched hands and pleading look - she's certainly not blood-covered or semi-transparent), and she seems to look more or less like a living person when she appears. Dev never sees her for himself, so he (and the reader) have to rely on other characters' reports of her manifestations.
- Preacher's Kid: Annie's estranged father is a popular televangelist who denounced her as Type 2 (Diabolic) after she became a Hard-Drinking Party Girl, quit the NRA, joined the American Atheist Society and got pregnant from a one-night stand. Annie is really more of a Type 3 (Neutral) in reality - or at least, she becomes one after settling down to care for Mike.
- Psychic Powers: Rozzie Gold, a.k.a. Madame Fortuna, is Joyland's resident fortune teller with a minor but genuine talent for her art: 90% of what she says is bullshit based on Cold Reading, but the other 10% is eerily accurate and impossible to fake.
- Mike is a genuinely powerful psychic.
- The fact that Tom is able to see Linda Gray's ghost when Dev and Erin don't might mean that he's a weak psychic like Rozzie - especially since sudden flashes of natural psychic ability in otherwise non-psychic people are a common theme in King's books.
- Red Herring: A very minor example. One of the victims attributed to the Carny Killer doesn't fit the pattern - she was of a different racial background (a black girl, whereas all the others were white blondes) and was raped before her throat was cut, unlike the others. It's implied that her place in the pattern threw the police off the trail of the real killer. Dev and Erin discount her from their list of victims; although it doesn't help them identify the killer, it provides a clearer pattern and possible motive.
- On a similar note, there are some hints that Eddie wears gloves to cover up the tattoos that the killer had in the pictures. When Dev removes his gloves, he discovers that Eddie just has psoriasis. Later on, the tattoos themselves are revealed to be red herrings; the killer used temporary tattoos to throw off the police.
- Serial Killer: "The Carny Killer".
- Two Lines, No Waiting: The story manages to juggle various different plots without becoming too cluttered; Dev's coming of age at Joyland, the mystery concerning Linda Gray's murder and her ghost as well as Mike and his mother.