Devin Jones takes a summer job at Joyland in the summer of 1973, and he tells us at the beginning of the novel that it is a summer he will never forget. While he dreams of taking his college girlfriend up to his rented room that overlooks the ocean of Heaven’s Bay, in reality he finds himself nursing a broken heart.
However, amongst the other college summer workers at Joyland he finds friendship, purpose and a delicious mystery. Linda Grey walked into the only dark ride at Joyland, The Horror House, with her boyfriend, and never walks out. There are only two clues – a tattoo of a bird on his hand, and the legend of her ghost haunting the ride.
After a summer full of adventure – a psychic message promising danger, saving a little girl’s life, bringing joy to children by doing the hokey pokey in a dog costume – Devin decides to take some time out and stay on at Joyland for the semester.
This is when he meets Mike, a young and very ill boy, and his mother who live along the foreshore. Devin gets closer to both the boy and his attractive mother, and in the meanwhile Erin Cook, a former Joyland employee who is using the college library system to gather evidence about the murder of Linda Grey, and a number of other murders of young women across the country. In a flash of insight, Devin solves the murder, but not before the killer realizes he is on to him.
A throwback to the classis pulp fiction novels King loved in his childhood, (which much like Joyland, soon passed their use-by date) this is a short and satisfying read.