Well now, this is interesting. www.goodreads.com shows, as of today, June 25, 2013, Stephen King’s JOYLAND with a rating of 4.1 out of 5 stars. Very good. 3813 votes cast and 872 reviews. Respectable indeed.
The same site shows Dan Brown’s INFERNO as having a 3.7 rating. Still respectable. But what’s this? 26339 votes cast! 6188 reviews! WHY? Why does everybody want to comment on this book?!
Beats me. Here is my break down of both books.
HERO/PROTAGONIST: Let’s get the battle lines drawn for those of you who aren’t even aware there will be a battle. No one, but no one, writes a better character than Mr. King. According to www.wikipedia.com King has written 50 novels and though I didn’t love all of them, I liked damn near most of them, and that includes each character in all 50 books. Except THE RENEGADES. Hated that book.
JOYLAND’s main character (MC) is college student Devin Jones, and in 1973 Devin was a virgin about to get his heart-broken by his first love. How can you not sympathize? We were all virgins at one time. Probably heart-broken as well. So from the first two pages we’re right there with Devin. King writes in the first person (uses ‘I’ instead of ‘he’) which draws us, the reader, even closer to the young man.
INFERNO has the same MC as THE DA VINCI CODE and ANGELS AND DEMONS so if you’re a Brown fan, you already know Robert Langdon. A tall, good-looking, intelligent history professor, with friends who seem to enjoy dragging him into dangerous situations. A likeable guy. Kind of one-dimensional. Trying to think of a flaw but other than a certain naïvety, he’s pretty perfect. Brown writes in third person (uses ‘he’ instead of ‘I’) enabling the author more leeway with his characters and their different points of view (POV) but distances the reader from the MC.
My preference for MC: kind of obvious. Devin.
STORY: Both were enjoyable. JOYLAND has 272 pages, INFERNO, 457. And a lot of the 457 pages focused on the history of Italy, its art and buildings. If you’re into educating yourself while you read, you’ll love this book. I have no idea if Mr. Brown has all his facts straight, doesn’t matter much to me. But what does matter, is when the lessons took me away from the story. For most of INFERNO, the MC is running from the bad guys. Very bad guys. In fact, we’re not even sure if the good guys are good guys. Which makes for a great adventure. Unless the MC stops along the way to tell us all about how the light shifts off the roof of some strange building. I simply skimmed those parts. Mr. Brown excels at manipulating his clues and red herrings so those saved the book for me. But, I often put the book down and didn’t rush back.
JOYLAND is a straight forward who-done-what-to-who but with King’s usual twist of the occult, not normally seen in hard-boiled crime fiction. Certainly not used in any of Westlake’s books. I didn’t mind this twist, though some might say it’s cheating if you’re using the paranormal to help solve your mystery. Bottom line for me, I only put the book down when threatened with divorce or starving to death.
My preference for story: Tie. Comparing the writing styles of King and Brown is peaches to pomegranates. I appreciate both.
VILLAINS/ANTAGONISTS: For me, the best books are the ones where I’m not sure who the bad guys are until at least half way, or even to the end, of the book. In King’s book you don’t know. Great. Keeping the tradition of the genre. In Brown’s book, there isn’t really a bad guy (and I don’t consider this a spoiler because you may think different. Intrigue. Brown is all about intrigue). And that brings me to a most surprising statement. Of the two books, INFERNO is the scariest damn book I’ve read in a long time, and considering it’s up against the master of fear, that’s saying something. But INFERNO deals with a real problem. Not mad dogs or spooky clowns, a real-life, could-happen, is-happening, frightening dilemma.
ENDING/DENOUEMENT: Both are good. Brown’s is rather shocking, and probably the reason for all the comments and reviews. I don’t know, I didn’t read them in case they tarnished my opinions. King’s ending is more traditional and more satisfying. Peaches and pomegranates.
So the winner? JOYLAND. No contest. Because I don’t like real-life fear. I use books to escape reality, not wallow in it. I don’t want graphs and statistics. I want make-believe. But that’s just me.