JOYLAND by Stephen King

King-Joyland-HCC-OrbikThis review is by way of a small tribute to Glen Orbik, who died on Monday after a long battle with cancer. He was the cover illustrator for many of the books published by Hard Case Crime, including this whodunit by Stephen King, which has been such a success that it has been announced that a new illustrated hardback edition is due to hit the stands in the Autumn. So, what’s it all about? Joyland is set in the summer and autumn of 1973 at an amusement park in North Carolina, where a heartbroken young man recounts a coming of age tale involving murder and the paranormal …

I submit this review for Carl V Anderson’s Once Upon A Time IX Challenge; and Friday’s Forgotten Books meme run by Patti Abbott at her fab Pattinase blog.

“Beyond the lights there is only darkness …”

Devin Jones is 21 years old and has just been dumped by his long-term girlfriend, Wendy. He is working at the Joyland funfair during the summer to help put himself through college and there makes friends with two other students doing the same thing, Erin Cook and Tom Kennedy. Tom and Erin soon become an item, ironically mirroring Devin and Wendy’s breakup, but once the season is over they head back to College while Devin decides to stay on at Joyland and take a year out. He makes friends with Annie and Mike Ross, who are staying in a house near the funfair. She is a young mother whose world revolves around her son, who is dying of muscular dystrophy. Mike has a form of second sight and wants to make the most of the time he has left. Devin, Mike, Erin and Tom will all become involved in trying to solve the ‘Carny Killer’ case, which in 1969 left a young woman dead inside Joyland’s horror ride – and, just maybe, her ghost.

“I don’t remember dreaming that summer at all.”

King-Joyland-HCC-McGinnisThe book is dedicated to Donald E. Westlake who, not coincidentally, wrote Slayground (1971), which along with its sequel Butcher’s Moon (1974), is one of a couple of his ‘Parker’ thrillers set in a funfair – and which I recently reviewed here. However, beyond the out of season funfair, the two have little in common. What we do have though is trademark King, especially reminiscent of his novella The Body (which originally appeared in the 1982 collection Different Seasons). Like that book it is a reminiscence told in the first person of events that took places decades earlier, a tale of lost youth and friendship told by a now middle-aged writer. The use of the supernatural (well, it is Stephen King after all) is pretty understated, though it does become very handy during the climax when Dev is trapped by the killer on top of a ferris wheel during a very dark and stormy night. This is a whodunit, no question, and a very traditional one at that  – but it is at its best as an evocation of a vanished way of life and as a rite of passage for its virginal narrator. Very typical of this author and very well done in his colloquial, raconteur style (there are no chapter breaks, just breaks with a heart symbol to take you from one section to the next). A surprisingly traditional tale from thiis author, I enjoyed this one a lot and thought it was definitely a step up from King’s previous HCC novel, The Colorado Kid, with a must stronger narrative, a strong sense of time and place and a finale designed not to leave a dry eye in the house.

“Be careful, Dev. It’s not white.”

King_Joyland_hb_illustratedTo find out more about King visit his homepage: and for more about Joyland, and read a sample of it, visit the HCC homepage at: HCC books all feature new covers painted in the eye-catching style of 50s and 60s paperbacks. Joyland was initially available in two versions, including an ultra expensive limited edition with cover art by veteran Robert McGinnis (see his homepage at:

The general release paperback instead comes with art by the late, great Glen Orbik (it’s the one featured at the top of this review). You can (and should) check out at his homepage at: For a really nice tribute to the man, with plenty of great examples of his cover art, you could do not better than to visit the Killer Covers blog and read Jeff Pierce’s celebration of the life and work of Glen Orbik. I have included a few of his covers in earlier Fedora reviews of HCC books, including Songs of Innocence by ‘Richard Aleas’ (really HCC founder Charles Ardai; and Blackmailer by George Axelrod. Here is their brief biog for him, with links to the book he illustrated for them:

GLEN ORBIK (Branded Woman, The Colorado Kid, The Wounded and the Slain, Blackmailer, Songs of Innocence, Money Shot, The Max, Fifty-to-One, House Dick, The Valley of Fear, Memory, Choke Hold, False Negative, Seduction of the Innocent, Web of the City, Joyland, The Secret Lives of Married Women, Odds On, Scratch One, Easy Go, Binary, Brainquake, Easy Death, Thieves Fall Out, The Girl With the Deep Blue Eyes)
Glen Orbik was a freelance illustrator for over twenty years. He studied with master illustrator and classic movie poster artist Fred Fixler, eventually taking over many of Fixler’s classes upon his retirement. Glen continued to teach for over 12 years. Specializing primarily in covers for comics and paperbacks, Glen painted for clients including Marvel and DC Comics, Sony, TSR, Berkley Books and Avon Books (including for two Ray Bradbury titles). He also painted collectible imagery for Warner Bros./DC Studios, as well as preliminary poster work for the Spider-Man and Hulk movies. He painted more than two dozen covers for Hard Case Crime over a period of a decade, and was one of our most beloved artists. He died of cancer on May 11, 2015.

Joyland was recommended by my old, old friend Simon, who loves Stephen King’s work in print and on-screen and has all his books in beautiful first editions. The Hard Case Crime series was first suggested to me by my old buddies Jamie and Maja – as always, thanks guys.

***** (3 fedora tips out of 5)

This entry was posted in Charles Ardai, Donald Westlake, Film Noir, Hard Case Crime, Stephen King. Bookmark the permalink.

38 Responses to JOYLAND by Stephen King

  1. le0pard13 says:

    I enjoyed JOYLAND. Perhaps not top-tier Stephen King, but I was entertained with the characters and his approach. A decent summer read.

  2. Margot Kinberg says:

    I confess, Sergio, this isn’t a King I’ve read. I’m not normally at all one for the paranormal, even as well as King can do it. Still, you’re not the first one who’s said it’s a solid read. I may have to try it.

  3. Todd Mason says:

    I continue to have a mixed view of what King does, vs. what he’s capable of (his best work is very good indeed), even when, as now, I’m in Vermont for the funeral of my aunt who consistently loved his work, and her brother my uncle who still does. The packaging at HCC, including the cover illos, continues to be very well-done.

    • Deep down I am with you on this and it’s a shame there will be no more Orbok covrs to grace their publications. My condolences on your Aunt’s passing chum – all the best.

      • Todd Mason says:

        Thanks. I tend to find the typical King offering to be horribly prolix and derivative…which is a pity when considering his better works, among which I class Carrie (you didn’t say which of the several fils you thought better, as if I couldn’t guess…). He isn’t as profound a scholr of the literature as I’d like, either–see, for example, Rosemary Pardoe’s fine refutation of his assertions about the essentially reactionary nature of horror, which his own work sometimes helps to refute–but I do like his rather cool explanation of the overpraise of those who hail his work as the greatest body in the history of fantastic fiction…I have to wonder at the Edgars going to King and Flynn this year being an unusually blatant truckling.

        • Todd Mason says:

          Scholar is always a good word to typo.

        • I should say straight up I am not especially well-versed. The ones I know best are Carrie, Salem’s Lot, The Stand, Danse Macabre, The Dark Half, Misery, Different Seasons, 4 Past Midnight, Dpolores Claiborne, The Colorado Kid – I read Dead Zone but don’t remember it well and probably sped through it. King became a pop culture ‘phenom’ so quickly and so certainly and so completely that in a way one tends to just treat him as a case apart, which he doesn’t necessarily deserve in terms of originality content, I agree – and I agree with your earlier comments about follow-through, which frequently disappoints. And the religious undercurrent doesn;t do much for me either! I think his willingness to put his own cards on the table as early as he did, in Danse Macabre, is significant and I think guided a lot of readers though the horror and fantasy genres. But yes, you can just tick off his inspiration as he goes though (WW Jacobs in Pet’s Cemetery, Stoker in Salem’s Lot, Tolkien and the Dark Tower series, Stevenson for Dark Half) as well as Bradbury and Matheson more generally. I think he remains better than he has got credit for a hugely successful popular author though …

          • Todd Mason says:

            I’d suggest the autobiographical portion of ON WRITING is among his best work I’ve seen; the problem is often more with his fans, who choose to see him as the Originator of so much of the tropes he exploits, And Clearly The Greatest Writer Of Our Time (I recently reminded myself of “William Wilson” by Poe in the multiple personality/evil twin/Doppelganger sweeps). And, yes, indeed, his debt to Bradbury and Matheson, and both directly and through them to Sturgeon and Bloch, has been obvious to me for years…and it follows an interesting pattern…Bradbury and Matheson are a bit more Watered Down in terms of artistic rigor, as well as a bit less attentive to their prose (Sturgeon famously could tell you why he wrote every word in some of his work; Bradbury and Matheson were simply a bit sloppier than Bloch or Sturgeon, sometimes intentionally more uncontrolled, sometimes less obviously so; King is more prolix than his next-gen influences). One librarian has published a guide to advise other librarians about horror and related fiction, and has cited King as *clearly* the most accomplished writer of our time in that field, which is sadly not nearly the same thing as being the most popular.

          • I do admire King for being both such a reader’s, and a writer’s, author, always being clear about writers and works he admires and how this might be reflected in his own output. I think, ultimately, that readers really like him and feel he is on their side! Bradbury remains perhaps one of those writers who I remain inordinately fond of just because of the distinctive style of his prose (well, at least up until the 1960s …). I do like going back to his classic work from the 50s especially.

  4. Mike says:

    I haven’t read this one yet, but only because I’m working through the HCC series in strict release order and I have a bit of a ways to go. Love these books incidentally – I deliberately buy the paperbacks rather than Kindle editions just for the “pulp” experience and often enough get through a book in one breathless sitting, which makes them a bit of a treat.

    • Thanks Mike – and I think you’re right to get the paper versions, definitely. Always a treat, I agree. In the last few years, looking at my posts, I think I have read more books by Hard Case Crime than by any other publisher

  5. Colin says:

    I was saddened to read of Orbik’s passing the other day – a great talent.

    King is a writer I’ve generally avoided as horror fiction isn’t really my thing, although I know he’s highly regarded. Good to hear this is essentially a mystery rather than full-on supernatural.

    • Like Mysery (which admittedly I prefer) this is definitely a crime book and fits right in with the Hard Case imprint.

      • Colin says:

        Yes, that’s the impression I got from your review. Oddly enough, I quite like some of the adaptations of his work – I’ve just never felt the urge to explore his writing. Perhaps this is a good entry point?

        • I think so, it is very typical of his work. I actually prefer some of the movie adaptations (as in the case of DOLORES CLAIBORNE which really stramlines the story and gets the best out of it). In soem cases like THE BODY, which led to STAND BY ME, and SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (both from the DIFFERENT SEASONS collection of novellas) they are pretty faithful. I think the film of CARRIE is better than the book.

          • Colin says:

            Something else which has deterred me until now is the sheer volume of his work available. It makes it harder to decide, for me anyway, where to dip in.
            I’ve seen this book in the stores and was attracted by the size too – some of his books look like you’d need a wheelbarrow to get them as far as the checkout!

          • God yes – the unexpurgated version of The Stand is probably the preferable one, but it is well over 1000 pages! Mysery and the novellas in Different Seasons and 4 Past Midnight are much more manageable at least! Carrie is I think still his shortest novel (and was his first to be published). Todd has meantioned his reservations and he has a point – King os great at character and build-up but only a few have a truly satisfying payoff – I think most of his critics would recognise that, and even many of hsi fans. But he is incredibly knowledgeable about genre in general and always knows what he is doing.

          • Colin says:

            Yep, I’ve seen copies of The Stand – that’s one seriously formidable looking tome. I thought about buying 4 Past Midnight once simply because the title sounded rather cool.

          • From the collection (frankly yhjey are more short novels than novellas), I would recommend the first two in particular, The Langoliers (a surprising excursion into SF and a good one) and Secret Window, Secret Garden (a psychological mystery that riffs on Mysery) both of hich have been filmed with reasonable results I thought.

          • Colin says:

            The Johnny Depp movie? I thought that was pretty good myself.

          • That’s the one! And yes, a good little movie I thought and pretty faithful to the book (which may make it less interesting admittedly as you know the twist!)

  6. I’ve found Stephen King to be a reliable writer. I prefer his short stories to his massive novels. JOYLAND is a quick read…which I suspect was King’s intention all along.

  7. tracybham says:

    Thanks for pointing out all this work by Glen Orbik. I had missed the piece at Killer Covers, so thanks for the link there also.

    No chapters in Joyland! That would drive me crazy. I haven’t been interested in reading it, but I never say never. Maybe someday.

  8. neer says:

    I had no idea that King wrote whodunnits. Thanks for the review Sergio. I’ll try to find this in a library.

    • Well, this is one of the very few Neeru! Gerald’s Game and Misery are more straightforward suspense thrillers with no supernatural element, which is also true of the fine novellaas to be found in Different Seasons (well, especially the first three anyway).

      • neer says:

        Thanks for letting me know the others Sergio. There was a time when I enjoyed king but halfway thru his mammoth IT, i simply gave up on him.

        Sergio, I also see that you are reading Chandler’s The Little Sister. That’s one Chandler that had me totally confused with its plethora of characters and killings. Looking forward to your review of it.

        • Yes, the length of so many of his books is a bit off-putting for me, must admit – JOYLAND comes in at under 300 pages though! The review of LITTLE SISTER is due in about 10 days – just finished it today in fact!

  9. Sergio, I have never read Stephen King but I do like the prospect of reading his novels, including JOYLAND, under the Hard Case Crime imprint. I love those covers.

    • Thanks Prashant – the covers that Orbik painted were really terrific. HCC is a great imprint – King is a very versatile author, though of course his best known work is in the horror genre. Many really good movies have been made from his manay, many novels, novellas and short stories. Have you seen SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, CARRIE, STAND BY ME, MISERY or THE GREEN MILE? They are very successful adaptations of his books in my view

  10. How does he write so much? I have read some King, but definitely from his better-known shelf. This does sound good… but how can his fans ever keep up with him?

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