Great. First we have to be afraid of clowns. Now it’s the guy who runs the Ferris wheel.
Yes, clowns are scary, and so are carnies—and if you didn’t have this red light in your mind already, it’s never a good idea to climb (or ride) to great heights during a lightning storm. King (Doctor Sleep, 2013, etc.) turns in a sturdy noir, with just a little of The Shining flickering at the edges, that’s set not in the familiar confines of Maine (though his protagonist is from there) but down along the gloomy coastline of North Carolina, with places bearing such fitting names as Cape Fear and the Graveyard of the Atlantic. His heart newly broken, Devin (Dev, to pals) Jones has taken a summer job at a carnival called Joyland, run by an impossibly old man and haunted by more than a few ghosts. Dev takes a room with crusty Emmalina Shoplaw, “tall, fiftyish, flat-chested, and as pale as a frosted windowpane,” who knows a few secrets. Hell, everyone except Dev knows a few secrets, though no one’s quite put a finger on why so many young women have gone missing around Joyland. Leave it to Dev, an accidental detective, urged along by an eager Lois Lane—well, Erin Cook, anyway. As ever, King writes a lean sentence and a textured story, joining mystery to horror, always with an indignant sense of just how depraved people can be. The story is all the scarier, toward the end, not by the revelation of the bad guy but by his perfectly ordinary desires, even though Joyland is anything but an ordinary place. Even to the last page, though, the body count mounts.
A satisfyingly warped yarn, kissing cousins of Blue Velvet. Readers may be inclined to stay off the Tilt-a-Whirl for a while after diving into these pages.