20th Century Ghosts, by Joe Hill

Review by Garry Charles

I first came across Joe Hill on the internet; one of those days when you follow links from one site to the next. On this particular day I discovered www.joehillfiction.com.

Cover of 20th Century Ghosts

At the time I didn’t realise just what I had stumbled upon, but after reading the free download of The Black Phone I knew that Joe was going to prove himself something special.

I then found another of his shorts entitled 20th Century Ghost in The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror #14. Again I was amazed at how he worked the art of the short tale into something so much more.

You can then imagine my excitement at finding that PS Publishing were about to release a collection of his shorts. And to top that I then heard he was going to appear at the FantasyCon to launch the book.

On the day, not only did I buy the book, but listened to him do a reading and met him in person. He signed the first edition and I told him that I’d let him know what I thought.

Joe, this review is for you. You deserve it.

Yes, you may have guessed already that this is going to be a good review and I’ll admit here and now that, for me, it was the best book of 2005.

I would love to list every story, but this review would end up almost as long as the book itself. Every story is that good. I will, however, pick out a few of the best (a hard task considering the quality throughout).

Here goes.


The opening tale to the book is that of a man in search of an author and so much more. Within the main story we are told another tale that brings a sense of dread into the reader’s heart. Upon returning to the story proper things take a serious turn for the worst when our hero finally reaches the end of his quest. This is the best new horror.


Not all of Joe’s tales are horror stories and I was surprised to find that this was my favourite story of all. Any writer that can build sympathy in the reader towards an inflatable schoolboy is a genius. And Joe does it without even trying. By the conclusion I had a tear in my eye, as did my wife when I read it out to her.

True brilliance.


Is it a vampire tale or just the story of an overbearing father? Whichever way you look at it you still end up with an astounding read. The boys’ fear of their father is palpable, yet his belief in vampires is accepted without question. A tale where, in the end, everyone is a victim.


A story of the horror that is humankind. No monsters here, but evil in its true form. The image of the hero running towards the police covered in blood and knowing he is probably going to the electric chair haunted my thoughts for days.


One of the shorter stories in the book, but very effective in the way it builds a sense of unease. What did the mother hear in that jar? I doubt only Joe will ever know the answer.

I must add that a game by the same name can be played on Joe’s website. Well worth a visit.


Next to Pop Art, this is one of the best. A tale of hidden worlds that should be left well alone and terror that should never be seen. As I read I could see it playing out in my head and the things I witnessed will stay with me for quite a while.

I would like to add, before I go, that Joe has the amazing talent (and the balls) to leave most of his stories open ended. This would usually infuriate me, but he does it in such a way that the tale hangs around in your subconscious, teasing you with multiple scenarios and endings.

In conclusion I advise that whether you have to beg, borrow or steal, you should read this book without delay.

20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill. Tpb, 341pp, £15. Published by PS Publishing (also available in hardback and deluxe slipcase edition with extras). Website: www.pspublishing.co.uk.

This review originally appeared on Whispers of Wickedness, and is reproduced here with permission.

About Stephen Theaker (306 Articles)
Stephen Theaker's reviews, interviews and articles have appeared in Interzone, Black Static, Prism and the BFS Journal. Among other work for the BFS, he has been awards administrator, short story competition administrator, Dark Horizons editor, FantasyCon secretary and treasurer, and (briefly) chair.