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20th Century Ghosts
Joe Hill
PS Publishing, 304 pages

20th Century Ghosts
Joe Hill
Joe Hill is a past recipient of the Ray Bradbury Fellowship and the A.E. Coppard Long Fiction Award, and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. His stories have appeared in a variety of magazines, such as The High Plains Literary Review and The 3rd Alternative, and in several anthologies, including The Mammoth Book Of Best New Horror, Vol. 14 and The Many Faces of Van Helsing. He lives in New Hampshire with his wife and children.

Joe Hill Website
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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Mario Guslandi

In his Introduction to Joe Hill's debut collection Christopher Golden writes: "Where the hell did this guy come from, to just pop up fully formed like this?". Indeed.

20th Century Ghosts is without any doubt, one of the finest short story collections I ever read, so much so as it comes from the pen of a newcomer, whose short fiction has appeared so far only in a bunch of genre magazines such as TTA, Postscripts and Crimewave. Although the stories date back no farther than four years or so, it was high time to put them together in a single volume. Praise to Peter Crowther for his ability to recruit a thoroughbred like Hill for his team of authors.

After a promising appetizer hidden in Hill's own introduction ("Scheherazade's Typewriter") has been served, the literary feast starts out with "Best New Horror," a captivating, highly enjoyable tale where the editor of a horror story anthology discovers a disquieting piece of fiction and unfortunately manages to trace his elusive author.

The title story, "20th Century Ghost" is a moving, atmospheric masterpiece about the sad ghost of a young girl haunting an old movie theatre.

Good ( but not great) stories are "Pop Art," a delightful, surrealistic sketch of a peculiar individual; "You Will Hear the Locusts Sing," where Kafka's Metamorphosis is revisited with a nasty touch; "In the Rundown," about a young man who appears to be the catalyst for disgrace and tragedy, and "The Cape" where magic follows a man from childhood to maturity.

All the remaining stories are simply superb. "Abraham's Sons," reports the adventures of Van Helsing's sons in America, their uneasy relationship with their father and their obsessions with vampires; "Better Than Home" is a mainstream piece about the affectionate memories from a difficult childhood; "The Widow's Breakfast" is a gentle story portraying a hungry bum and a compassionate widow -- again, mainstream fiction but with a slightly dark undercurrent.

A couple of tales are really outstanding also for their extraordinary capacity to unsettle and disturb.

"The Black Phone," a very dark story featuring a child abductor with murderous habits and a mysterious phone sitting in his basement, and the offbeat "Last Breath" revealing the secrets of an unusual museum which collects odd remains of dead people. Another story bound to give you the creeps -- although you'll be unable to pinpoint the specific reason -- is "My Father's Mask," a kind of dark fairy tale set during a weekend in a mountain cabin and featuring an odd pair of parents playing obscure games.

The last piece, "Voluntary Committal" is an unforgettable, stunning novelette where the weird and the unexplained penetrate the life of a young boy and his genial/retarded brother.

Although not everything is ghostly, this is dark fiction at its best that will keep you entertained, disquieted and spellbound at the same time. I cannot recommend enough this book. I'm quite sure you'll be thankful for taking my advice.

Copyright © 2005 by Mario Guslandi

Mario Guslandi lives in Milan, Italy, and is a long-time fan of dark fiction. His book reviews have appeared on a number of genre websites such as The Alien Online, Infinity Plus, Necropsy, The Agony Column and Horrorwold.

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