The Hard Case Crime imprint series was founded in 2004 by publishers Charles Ardai and Max Phillips. The series recreates, in editorial form and content, the style of the paperback crime novels of the 1940s and '50s that also features original art done in the pulp style. The collection includes both reprints of novels in that genre along with new titles written for that style.
In 2005, Stephen King wrote The Colorado Kid for the line and it became the most well-known titles. Still, that book, offered little in the way of actual procedural detective-work, no sex, violence or action, possibly no crime, and no solution to its mystery (and somehow, the cable net Syfy was able to create a series called Haven, which is loosely based on the novella. It’s in its fourth season).
Now King returns with his second story for Hard Case Crime line-up, Joyland. It’s the story of a college student, Devin Jones who spends summer and fall 1973 working at a North Carolina amusement park. Reminiscent of King’s The Body (the novella from Different Season collection that became the movie Stand By Me), it’s told by its sixtysomething narrator looking back. Devin has arrived in North Carolina after being dumped by his girlfriend and is still mourning the death of his mother four years earlier. So he’s escaping the ghosts of his past and trying to find a future. Joyland Amusement offers some solace, and soon the 21 year-old finds himself one of the most popular new kids there, and making life-long friends with Erin and Tom. He also becomes involved with a single-mother named Anne, and her wheelchair bound son Mike, who King gives his patented variation on physic powers. While Dev is enjoying his time there, learning the lingo and slang of carny-style life at Joyland, he also hopes to see the ghost in the park’s Horror House, which is supposedly haunted by young woman who was murdered there. With help from Erin, he begins to investigate the girl’s death and stumbles upon a possible trail of dead women that have spanned years.
This novel is also, in many ways, a coming-of age story, and much like King in his later years (though it’s a theme that goes way back), he talks about how all our joys, the sorrows, our tragedies and even our triumphs are bound together and can assert themselves at any given time.
But, for fans of this imprint, they will discover that not much really happens. The mystery is not that deep; the ghost –which is real-, makes only a fleeting appearance and I got the impression that the book is really an over-long short story. Still, I forgive King for these indulges. I love his work and even his weakest stuff is still worth reading.