Thirteen Storeys by Jonathon Sims
Gollancz, hb, £13.19
Reviewed by Sarah Deeming
Residents of the controversial Banyan Court are suffering from unexplained events. Feelings of being watched, mysterious stains on walls that can’t be cleaned, taps that run red all plague the residents in both the luxury apartments and the affordable housing section of Banyan Court. As these events intensify, threatening the physical and mental health of the residents, they receive an invitation to a dinner party hosted by Banyan Court’s enigmatic creator, Tobias Fell. Does he have the answers to what is happening in his building?
Thirteen Storeys is a collection of thirteen short stories focused around some of the residents and workers of Banyan Court who are struggling with malevolent forces in their lives. This is different from what the blurb led me to believe. It caught me off-guard at first, but once I understood the book’s format, I was drawn in.
For me, the collection had a few stand-out stories that gripped me. The first story in the group, Night Work, uses the setting of London at night, empty and silent, to build suspense as Victoria Ng begins seeing strange things coming home first thing in the morning.
Bad Penny gives us a child’s point of view with Anna and her imaginary friend, Penny. It is paired with Sleepless, where some of the events are witnessed by an adult. This pairing is particularly unsettling as we readers know something the characters don’t.
Round the Clock takes a different approach as we see the possible consequences for the residents if they don’t find an answer to their problems. It also gives us some answers to things other residents have witnessed as the main character in this story, Jason, pops up frequently throughout.
Other stories did not fare as well. Ghost stories work on the build-up of suspense, removing all of our logical explanations for unusual and frightening events until we are left with the unthinkable as the only possible reason. It worked well in Night Work and Round the Clock, but as other stories followed the same pattern, it lessened their impact and became a little formulaic. There are also three characters whose name begins with D; David, Damian, and Diego. Damian and Diego are similar in how they appear in the book, alone and at strange times. Keeping track of them and which D-character was who broke the flow of my reading.
Thirteen Storeys is a long book, lots of work goes into describing the lives of the residents as well as their experiences and changes because of Banyon Court. However, the ending felt rushed and cliched. The twelve stories before focusing on one person while the thirteenth jumps between all the characters, including Tobias Fell. This change in pace and style is at odds with the atmospheric build of tension and suspense of the previous stories.
Thirteen Storeys was an unusual read, and for fans of horror looking for something different, then I would recommend giving it a go.