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20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill: John C Adams Reviews

Book name: 20th Century Ghosts

Author: Joe Hill

Publisher: PS Publishing

Format: ebook, print, audiobook

Genre: Horror

Publication Date: 2005

Star Rating: 5/5

Joe Hill is now such a well-known and respected horror writer that feels like so long since he made his debut with 20th Century Ghosts, a collection of horror short stories.

In fact, it was only in 2005 that PS Publishing shared Joe Hill’s writing with an unsuspecting world.

20th Century Ghosts is an anthology of fifteen short stories, with a cheeky bonus story slipped into the ‘Acknowledgements’ section to reward those of us who always religiously read a book’s back-matter.

Some of the stories weren’t really horror at all, but many fell squarely within the horror ambit so 20th Century Ghosts can confidently be placed within that genre.

My personal favourite story was actually the first one, ‘Best New Horror’. I was very drawn in by the way that the narrative unfolded, and how reflective it was about the process of creating and publishing horror fiction.

Eddie Carroll edits a horror magazine. He’s exhausted and demoralised by the same old, same old that seems to arrive in his mailbox. He yearns for something fresh and new.

Then he unexpectedly receives a letter from a fellow editor, Harold Noonan, recommending a story to him.

Eddie’s intrigued. “Buttonboy” has proven too disturbing for the readers of the literary review that Harold Noonan edits, but he’s keen to see it gain the recognition it deserves.

Eddie begins an astonishingly thorough search for “Buttonboy”’s elusive author.

This leads Eddie via a horror convention to a house in the mountains, and some terrible discoveries worthy of a horror book or movie of their own.

I loved ‘Best New Horror’. There were hints of HP Lovecraft, the Texas Chain Saw Massacre and much else besides. A cracking start to 20th Century Ghosts.

My other favourite story in this anthology was ‘You Will Hear the Locust Sing’, which was straight out of the ‘central character turns into insect’ school of horror.

It reminded me a lot of The Fly, of course, but in ‘You Will Hear the Locust Sing’, the protagonist (Francis Kay) is a child.

The treatment was sympathetic as Francis becomes a locust, though the explanation of how his dietary choices have driven the transformation is pretty stomach-churning.

Francis’s home life is pretty dismal, and he’s so hungry but come nightfall, when he returns home, he can’t help but feast on his father and his father’s girlfriend.

I felt incredibly sorry for Francis before his transformation but, like any good fictional transformation, he was in many ways better off afterwards. This gave ‘You Will Hear the Locust Sing’ a surprisingly up-beat feel.

I didn’t take to the story which gave 20th Century Ghosts its title quite as much. This was such a shame, because the discussion of the relationship between horror and film was of interest, and I do love a ghost story.

There was just something too reflective for me, which I think was what prevented me from immersing myself in the ghost story element sufficiently.

Joe Hill used almost every element of horror in this short volume of stories. ‘Abraham’s Boys’ was a vampire story and ‘Better Than Home’ was a subtle tale of the descent into mental health problems in a young boy who is obsessive compulsive.

The most powerful narrative came from ‘The Black Phone’, where a boy is abducted by a paedophile. Finney receives help from the spirit of the last boy killed before he was snatched, a child he knew slightly from the sports’ field. This story was both terrifying and inspiring at the same time.

20th Century Ghosts was incredibly strong for a debut collection. I was no surprise to me to see Joe Hill’s subsequent success as a horror writer. His deep understanding of the genre and love of horror were both evident.

Thank you for reading my review.

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John C Adams Reviews 20th Century Ghosts

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