13 Storeys by Jonathan Sims

December 4, 2020


A dinner party is held in the penthouse of a multimillion-pound development. All the guests are strangers – even to their host, the billionaire owner of the building.

None of them know why they were selected to receive his invitation. Whether privileged or deprived, they share only one thing in common – they’ve all experienced a shocking disturbance within the building’s walls.

By the end of the night, their host is dead, and none of the guests will say what happened. His death has remained one of the biggest unsolved mysteries – until now.

But are you ready for their stories?

13 Storeys by Jonathan Sims is a portmanteau novel featuring a baker’s dozen of tales woven together by a strange building and its equally strange owner. Welcome to Banyan Court, a place where nothing is ever quite what it seems. Let’s meet the residents and staff in the run up to the most exclusive event the building has ever hosted.

Night Work – Violet Ng works the night shift. She loves the peace and quiet of the slumbering city. She finds comfort in the empty streets and the lonely walk home. Unfortunately, when your home is Banyan Court, peace is often in short supply. Sims starts things off with a growing sense of unease. There is an air of disquiet in this first story that continues throughout the entire collection.

The Knock – Mr Jesus Candido is an art collector without peer. He always dresses to impress, lives in a premier apartment and ensures everyone knows just how important he is. When a striking piece of art arrives in the auction room, Jesus is compelled to purchase it, Jesus has to possess it above all else. It’s amazing how quickly addiction and obsession can consume an entire life isn’t it?

Smart – Donna, the digital assistant, starts to make Carter’s life a living hell. Technology is a wonderful thing when it works for you rather than against. This story got me thinking about all the smart devices we currently have in our home. The answer is too many for the curious amongst you. If they decided they’ve had enough of us, we are so epically screwed.

Bad Penny – Anna has an imaginary friend called Penny. When Anna is bored she can always rely on Penny to come up with a plan because Penny knows all the best games. It’s giving me the fear just thinking about it now. There are certain things that push my buttons when it comes to horror. Creepy children are right up there near the top of the list. Creepy children with creepy imaginary friends even more so.

Inbox – Gillian knows that as a junior law clerk she gets assigned all the grunt work. Trawling through endless documents and thousands of files is no fun. Perhaps learning a bit about a reclusive billionaire and his property empire might prove to be a little more interesting.

Sleepless – Alvita can’t get a good night’s sleep. Even copious amounts of medication aren’t doing the trick. At least late-night television is always there for her. I’ve always believed there is a sense of horror in exhaustion. Being so bone weary you are utterly powerless certainly sounds terrifying to me. Then there is that terrible moment when fantasy and reality start to melt into one another. That point where you can’t distinguish one from the other.

A Foot in the Door – Caroline Fairley is an aspiring writer/journalist who discovers that the checkered history of land where Banyan Court was built could be the big break she has always been looking for. This extra insight into how the Court came into being helps to further define the supernatural goings on. The building begins to feel like a character in its own right.

Viewing Essential – Poor old estate agent Laura Lockwood. Trying to shift 21 Banyan Court feels like her own mission impossible. It’s not Laura’s fault that everyone who comes to view the property leaves within minutes and never, ever comes back.

A Stubborn Stain – Leon likes everything just so. When a strange stain appears on the wall of 15 Banyan Court, it will not do. What follows is one man’s descent into madness and compulsive behaviour. I think Leon is the character I felt most sorry for. By the story’s end he is a shadow of his former self, his sanity left questionable at best. Poor sod.

Round the Clock – Jason works as a concierge at Banyan Court along with his intimidating colleague Max. When it comes to following the rules, Max is more than willing to reprimand anyone who steps out of line. The problem is Max is getting more and more out of control. What can Jason do about his ‘partner’?

Old Plumbing – Janek is an expert plumber, he instinctively knows how old buildings tick. Banyan Court however is the exception to the rule. Excluding the novel’s final bloody flourish, this is undoubtedly the grossest story in the collection. Drains are never pleasant at the best of times and when you add in body parts, things tend to get more than a little icky.

Point of View – Damian is beginning to piece it all together. He’s had a glimpse of what is going on at Banyan court. If he’s lucky, and manages not to lose his mind, then perhaps he might just be able to make sense of it all.

The Builder – And so we reach the main event, the dinner party that everything has been leading to since page one. Our gracious host, Tobias Fell, finally takes to the stage. His grand plan is revealed in all its despicable glory. I’ll not provide any spoilers, suffice to say his ultimate goal is suitably nasty.

The individual stories in this collection bleed together to form a deliciously malevolent whole. I loved how characters weave in and out of the separate tales. Jonathan Sims has crafted a cracking anthology that reinvigorates the classic haunted house story and cranks up the tension to fever pitch. If you are looking for a new flavour of nightmare fuel, then this is the book for you. Banyan Court is the bastard lovechild of the Overlook Hotel and the architectural madness of Ivo Shandor. I wouldn’t want to live there, but it sure has been fun* to visit.

13 Storeys is published by Gollancz and is available now. Highly recommended.

My musical recommendation to accompany this novel is the soundtrack to The Girl from the Third Floor by Alison Chesley, Steve Albini and Tim Midyett. It has a sinister, ambient vibe that fits nicely with the tone of the book.

*Ok, I’m willing to concede ‘fun’ might not be the right word. Put it this way, it creeped me out but in a good way. You can’t ask for more than that when it comes to horror can you?

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