20th Century Ghosts

Joe Hill
20th Century Ghosts Cover

20th Century Ghosts


This is a fantastic book and a superb collection of short stories. The stories are all different but the book feels very much like a collection with an overarching theme. The stories belong together as though they are designed to be read together rather than compiled from various sources and periods.

Joe Hill is a great writer, he manages to interest the reader and provides genuine chills and unsettling moments, however it would be inaccurate to describe the collection as 'horror' or 'ghost stories' as the chills are often psychological and the stories are definitely unsettling. It's not all about scares though - many of the stories are touching and have a warmth about them. There isn't a single story I didn't enjoy and every story is at least four stars. There is nothing I didn't enjoy.

There does seem to be some themes which run through the stories, adolescence - particularly from a male perspective and father / son relationships.

Thoughts on the stories?

Best New Horror - This was messed up and really creeped me out. A Post-modern nod and wink to horror writing and themes. The end will be familiar to horror film buffs. Has quite a nasty edge to it which was gruesome and I thought would set the tone for the collection - mistakenly.

20th Century Ghost - A haunted cinema and a beautiful love story. Chilling yet beautiful, and haunting. I found this really touching.

Pop Art - A very imaginative story about friendship. Sad, but uplifting.

You Will Hear the Locust Sing - ...and here comes the 1950's monster movie.

Abraham's Boys - The Van Helsing family revisited. Quite a shocker and an interesting take on the Vampire theme.

Better than Home - Lovely story about a father and son

The Black Phone - back to horror territory and a great serial killer short. Very creepy and threatening.

In the Rundown - A video store clerk gets fired and ends up in a scenario which gets worse and worse. An ambiguous ending that has the reader hoping that justice is done. A sense of despair accompanies the reader as one realises the poor clerk may not get the rub of the green...

The Cape - So a boy becomes a superhero. Has one of the most unsettling twists I have ever experienced which I didn't see coming.

Last Breath - A real Twilight Zone feel to me with a creepy curator of the 'Museum of Silence'.

Dead-Wood - Very short but I loved this story. I read this in bed during a storm. And yes, up until recently I had a very large tree in my garden. An interesting concept and very creepy.

The Widow's Breakfast - A story about human kindness, tinged with sadness.

Bobby Conroy Comes Back from the Dead - Old flames meet at the set of Dawn of the Dead.

My Father's Mask - An amazing story - a twisted fairy tale which has a nod and a wink to 'Alice in Wonderland'. Dodgy parenting, adolescence and sexuality with vey dark undertones. There are misdirections and fantastical elements and it's hard to work out what it is REALLY happening. A sense of paying one's due and maybe old debts being called into account. Great story.

Voluntary Committal - The final story in the collection. A teenage boy befriends the school jerk, somewhat in error and he can't really shake him off despite being bad news. His brother is mildly autistic and builds fantastical structures out of cardboard in the basement. One could always see where this was going. It felt quite an honest story about adolescence, the mistakes we have, the failings we have and our sexuality developing. It's about brotherly love and also how that can be hard to express during adolescence. I could see how it was panning out but the payoff is worth it.

Scheherazade's Typewriter - ...and we have a story hidden in the acknowledgements. A writer dies and his daughter listens to his typewriter turning on and typing each night. A cute way to end the collection.