At just under 300 pages, Joyland (Hard Case Crime, 2013) is a tidy little murder-mystery set in 1973 that features some classic King elements: ghosts, psychic powers, and, alas, a somewhat unsatisfying ending.
But don't get me wrong- Stephen King is one of my favorite writers. And in this, he's an anomaly, since I used to steer very clear of any book written after 1920 (I was very attached to my 19th century). Something about King's books, though, were satisfying and addictive- maybe it was the fluid and conversational writing style, or the familiar-but-always-exciting mystery around which each story was built.
At the heart of Joyland is the murder of Linda Gray. Killed on a funhouse ride several years before the start of the story, Linda haunts the Horror House (of course), appearing only to certain people (those who have "the sight"- the narrator, Devin Jones, is not one of them). Devin, working at Joyland in the summer to earn enough for college and get his soon-to-be ex-girlfriend off his mind, allows himself to get pulled into the mystery, discussing Linda's murder with his co-workers, boarding-house landlady, and even a psychic dying child, whom he befriends. Between the information that he gathers from these other characters and his own obsessive mulling over the case, Devin eventually figures out who the murderer is, just as the murderer is about to make him his next victim.
Like I said, this book's pretty addictive, but most good murder mysteries are. You start considering everyone as a suspect, and I must admit, I even cast a sidelong, suspicious eye at the frowzy fortuneteller Madame Fortuna/Rozzie Gold, which is pretty funny when I think about it now. But Fortuna, like the men who run the rides and stands at the theme park, and even Devin's landlady, are more like cardboard cut-outs than well-drawn characters. Maybe this was King's intent--plunking Devin into a world where nothing, not even his co-workers and friends--are quite real. Or maybe I'm getting all crazy-grad-school-analytical on this poor, unsuspecting book.
The "carny" lingo, the brief and odd "love affair" that Devin has with the psychic boy's mother, and the descriptions of a ghostly, abandoned theme park in the off-season round out the book, but just barely. Joyland isn't one of King's several-hundred-page tomes, and it wasn't meant to be (still couldn't help sighing a disappointed "meh" when I finished it, though).
In short, I would recommend Joyland, if only because it's entertaining and relatively short and you love Stephen King. And because the cover is just too ridiculously hokey.