20th-century-ghosts20th Century Ghosts is a collection of short stories by Joe Hill, whose real identity is Joseph Hillstrom King – son of the horror-meister, Stephen King. My wife got this book for me as a Valentine’s Day gift because I’d been harping on about how good the reviews were. I quickly finished the other books I’d started on to finally get to this one.

But was I in for a major disappointment. 2 days into the book (197 pages out of 383), I decided to call it quits. There was nothing scary about it, some of the stories just went on and on without a clear plot, had abrupt endings and worst of all, lots of baseball talk that bored me to death. I could not find the slightest tinge of horror in this book. Perhaps I had too high an expectation? I doubt it.

There are 14 short stories altogether and of these, I read 5 –

  1. Best New Horror – Spirit of a murdered girl haunts a cinema
  2. Pop Art – Friendship between an inflatable plastic boy and
  3. You’ll Hear the Locusts Sing – Boy turns into an insect and eats his father and best friend.
  4. Abraham’s Boys
  5. Better than Home
  6. The Black Phone – A kidnap victim gets help from the dead through a disconnected telephone.
  7. In the Rundown
  8. The Cape
  9. Last Breath – Alinger and his museum of bottled dying breaths.
  10. Dead-Wood
  11. The Widow’s Breakfast
  12. Bobby Conroy Comes Back from the Dead
  13. My Father’s Mask
  14. Voluntary Committal

I didn’t enjoy this book. Short stories should be plot driven since it’s impossible to build on the characters given the length constraints. But the plots in this book were weak, sometimes plotless .. most of the time it just fizzled briefly like a can of flat soda. So much for the suspense.


Joe Hill

To be fair, I must make clear again that I did not finish this book. Maybe the subsequent stories are better? I don’t know and my experience from reading the first few stories mean I don’t care enough to know. This is my personal opinion of the book. For those of you who are still curious about it, you might be interested to know that this book won several awards – the  Bram Stoker Award for Best Fiction Collection, as well as the British Fantasy Award for Best Collection and Best Short Story for “Best New Horror”. Notwithstanding that, 20th Century Ghosts just didn’t cut it for me.

I’ve had no luck finding any good ghost horror novels and would really appreciate if anyone out there could recommend a few to me.

Verdict : 1 out of 5

What’s Good: It’s a collection of short stories, so if it’s painful, it’s only for a while.

What’s Not Good: Stories are dull and flat, not scary at all. Nothing suspenseful about it. A true disappointment despite all the awards and hype.