Book Review – Joyland by Stephen King

Stephen King may be known as the Master of the Macabre, but many people forget that he can be equally skilled when it comes to drama and crime fiction: I’m talking The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption (from his Four Seasons series). There have been a couple of hits and misses, like the lacklustre Mr Mercedes, but I’m happy to declare Joyland, which I picked up recently, a good read.

Synopsis: 

The year is 1973. Fresh out of school, 21-year-old Devin Jones takes on a temporary summer job at the Joyland Amusement Park in North Carolina while attempting to get his mind off his ex, who recently dumped him after moving away for her studies. Jones befriends two other summer hires, Tom and Erin, and settle into ‘carny’ life. Devin is piqued by the mystery of a purported haunting in the Horror House – that of the spirit of a young girl who had her throat slit while in  the ride with her ‘boyfriend’, suspected to be a serial killer who had preyed on several victims. He befriends the psychic resident fortune teller Madam Rosetta, who tells him that he will meet two children that summer who will change his life, and that one of them has the Sight. Shortly after, Devin rescues a girl with a red hat, as per Rosetta’s prediction, from choking, and is lauded as the local town hero. This bolsters his decision to remain at Joyland as a permanent employee after the rest of the summer hires are gone.

During this time he becomes close to a standoffish woman named Annie and her terminally ill son Mike – the second child in Rosetta’s prediction, who is gifted with the Sight. Mike wishes to go to Joyland for the first and last time before he dies, not just for himself but also to ‘free’ the spirit of the trapped ghost in the Horror House – a wish that Devin managed to grant, thanks to him being in the good books with the park’s bosses. Mike’s presence helps free the ghost. Devin, who still had an interest in finding out the truth of the murder, returns home and pores over evidence and research presented by Erin, whom he had enlisted for help earlier to investigate the case. It then hits Devin who the killer is – but of course, the latter is always one step ahead…

Verdict

Joyland isn’t your typical horror novel. It leans toward drama, albeit with supernatural elements – a ghost, a boy with the sight, and a serial killer. It is also very much about young love and the vagaries of youth. Devin was in love with his ex, convinced that he was going to marry her someday and have kids with a suburban job and a happy life, but it was not to be. How many times have we, ourselves, been let down by people we thought we loved and who loved us? The way Devin spiralled into a depression, throwing himself into work during the day while listening to suicidal songs at night, reminded me of my own experiences. The slow way he finds joy in his newfound carny work, the support given by his friends and the way he discovers his sense of purpose is beautifully written and evokes a feeling of nostalgia. His interactions with Annie and Mike are particularly touching: the way a simple desire to do good by two people he met on his way to work blossoms into a friendship. How the Mother and Son opened their hearts to him, and vice versa. It was all a wistful read, until the grand finale of catching WhoDunnit. At that point, the reader is pleasantly surprised by the twist in plot, but it would have been good enough on its own without the horror plot thrown in. That being said, I felt the story was too slow at times, which isn’t what I’m used to with a King novel. For that reason, I’d give it a …

Score: 7/10. 

 

Book Review – The Godfather

The Godfather is considered by many to be one of the greatest crime films of all time, with a star-studded cast that included the likes of Marlon Brando as the charismatic man himself, a young and dashing Al Pacino, James Caan and Diane Keaton. When it hit theatres in 1972, it was an instant blockbuster, becoming one of the top 25 highest grossing films in America. Decades later, the movie is still considered to be one of the most influential films of all time.

But before the film propelled the gangster movie genre to fame, it all started with an amazing story. Written by an Italian-American writer called Mario Puzo.

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Synopsis:

Vito Corleone is what they call a Don: an Italian-American Mafia boss in New York who is feared by his enemies and loved by all who pledge allegiance to him. He is their ‘Godfather’, caring for the people and serving them the justice robbed from them by the American system. All sorts of people come to The Don to have their problems solved – whether they need a citizenship for a young Italian lad about to be deported, or to loan money for a small business, or even to ‘persuade’ someone to agree to a deal. In return, he asks for their absolute friendship and loyalty, which the Don may demand at any time.

Trouble brews in New York as the Five Mafia families fight a mob war for influence and power. After a failed negotiation with ‘The Turk’ Solozzo, a gangster who wants to persuade the Corleones to dabble in drugs, the seemingly invincible Don is shot and confined to a hospital.

His two sons, Santino and Michael, must step up and help run the business with the help of the family advisor, Tom Hagen. While Santino is bloodthirsty and brutal, Michael is quiet, intelligent and initially reluctant to have anything to do with the family business.

When Solozzo sets up another ‘trap’ to assassinate the Don at the hospital, Michael’s quick thinking saves his father – but he is forced to flee America after killing Solozzo and a corrupt police officer. The incident unleashes a full-scale war which leaves Santino killed and Michael finally taking up his destiny as head of the family.

Verdict:

With simple, gritty language, Mario Puzo delivers a world where justice is not always written in black and white. Spanning across two generations, the novel kicks off with the Don at the height of his power, followed by his attack by rival factions which cause a turmoil in the underworld and finally his retirement and eventual death. In the latter half of the book, Michael takes up the mantle as main character, as the Don’s role is slowly phased out as advisor, then happily retired ex-Mafia boss who prefers pottering around the garden and enjoying life’s spoils.

What I like most about the novel, apart from superb storytelling (which never has a dull moment!), is how the characters come alive with their distinct personalities.   The Don’s charisma, Sonny’s deadly ruthlessness, Michael’s quiet intelligence and suppressed anger – they all seem to radiate off the pages. Even minor characters have their own stories to tell but never in an annoying way that has no bearing to the story. For example, Michael’s short love affair with Apollonia, which ultimately leads to her murder, is a short but important part of the novel which explains why Michael turns into the Don he is to become.

It’s also an interesting insight into the underbelly of human society, one which has coexisted with daily life for decades – the Mafia. In every seedy corner lies a secret (and sometimes not so secret) world – one of drug trafficking, prostitution, gambling and…murder.

Score: 9/10. Good read, kept me up many nights 🙂

Book Review – The Rainmaker by John Grisham

John Grisham is well-known for his courtroom thriller novels, and his sixth book, Rainmaker, promises to be all that.

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The readers are introduced to Rudy Baylor, a broke, fresh out of law school grad who just got dumped by his girlfriend and is filing for bankruptcy. Kicked out of his apartment and desperately looking for a job in a market saturated with law graduates, Rudy is reduced to begging for work. While at a practical class conducted at an old folks home, he signs up a couple – Dot and Buddy Black. The couple are suing a big insurance company for alleged cheating of the insurance for their son, Donny Ray who has leukemia. Because of the claims denial, Donny Ray’s condition, which could have been treated, worsens over the year and leads to his death.

Now Rudy, a fresh out of lawschool grad with no experience, must lock horns with a multi million dollar corporation headed by ruthless, seasoned lawyers; to fight for justice for the parents of his client. But the baddies will stop at nothing to hide their dirty secrets.

In the process, Rudy falls in love with a battered married wife, Kelly, which also spells trouble for our young hero. What’s a broke young lawyer to do?

Overall, I wouldn’t call the book a ‘courtroom thriller’. The pacing is nice and leisurely, leaving you with just enough curiousity to wonder what’s next without catching your breath. Grisham manages to make complicated law terms easy to understand with laymen terms and simple language. The premise for the story is very much a tried and tested David vs Goliath theme: interesting to read, but nothing that screams literary masterpiece. It’s a good read for lazy afternoons or to fill in time between bus rides. 

Rating: 6/10. Good for filling in time, nothing bam. I do like the little twist at the ending though. No spoilers!