Thirteen Storeys (2020) – Jonathan Sims

Title:Thirteen Storeys
Author:Jonathan Sims
Publisher/s:Gollancz/Jonathan Ball Publishers
Date of publication:2020
Star Rating:⭐⭐⭐⭐
Disclaimer:Jonathan Ball Publishers kindly sent me a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

“It’s bleeding into people, especially those that look too closely, whose attention is too focused on the walls, the structure, the homes here. Or those that feel trapped. It’s starting to reach out to them. What I don’t know is why. Or what it wants.”

Banyan Court is owned by billionaire, Tobias Fell. The towering building is a thirteen storey residential development in the center of Tower Hamlets, a poor area of London. There are two sides to the building – the side inhabited by the idle rich, and the side that is slowly falling apart and houses those who have nowhere else to go but Banyan Court. Neither side has anything to do with the other, and in fact, there are separate entrances and no visible way of getting from one side to the other. On the thirteenth floor, reachable only with an ancient elevator, lives Tobias Fell himself, a social recluse unfamiliar with his tenants on either side of the building, and who hasn’t left Banyan Court in many years.

Some of the residents, (and one or two non-residents) have been experiencing strange feelings, and noticing disturbing things about Banyan Court. Their experiences are what connect them – that and the odd arrival of an invitation to a party on the top floor with the elusive Tobias Fell. Not a single guest has ever met the man whom no one knows anything about, and yet everyone has something to say about him, things they think they know.

TOBIAS FELL cordially invites…. to attend a dinner party at 1 Banyan Court on the evening of 16th August 2014. Penthouse access will be available through the freight elevator.

Sims’ novel has divided up each guest’s story into its own unique chapter. Each chapter is a uniquely twisted tale of fear and paranoia, that can be compared only with the previous story, and the one to follow. Thirteen Storeys is a delicious play on words, as the countdown to the actual party begins and ends, with a series of stories that wind their way through the physical building and the storeys people live on – with the thirteenth storey being the home of Tobias Fell. Hints allude to the horror tales from the ’80s and ’90s, such as Tales from the Crypt and Tales from the Darkside, and inspiration is drawn from the more recent Black Mirror.

The reader walks the hallways and up the stairs, and steps into the lift. Along the way you will meet Violet Ng who lives on the rough side of Banyan Court, and who works the night shift at a dead-end job; Jesus Candido, an art aficionado in possession of a rather unique painting, and Anna Khan, a seven-year-old girl whose best friend Penny is a little bit odd. You might also bump into Anna’s only other friend Tommy, and his mother Alvita Jackson (who has a little opioid addiction), or Caroline Fairley, a writer who has begun to suspect that Banyan Court might be haunted, and perhaps even Carter Dwight who works in tech and has created a form of artificial intelligence, and who is starting to feel ‘watched’ by his own technology.

Coming into the building you may meet Janek Kowalczyk, a plumber who doesn’t actually live in the building but has found himself a sweet job working for the tenants whose pipes are forever acting up, or Leon Copeland whose apartment he shares with his wife on the fancy side, can never quite be clean enough.

At the door, the concierge, Jason Brown, may be polite and professional, and there’s no doubt he takes his job seriously, but sometimes, just sometimes, it seems as though the ‘luxury lifestyle brand’ he’s meant to be living up to is the last thing on his mind. Gillian Barnes is a corporate lawyer and hasn’t always made the most ethical choices, and she shares this guilt with estate agent Laura Lockwood who has been trying to sell an apartment no one seems to want to step into.

If you look closely enough you may notice Damian Simpson, who is never without a tape measure, the mysterious smoking man whom no one seems to know, and David Erikson who doesn’t live in the building but as a journalist sure knows a lot about the history of Banyan Court – and that history dear readers, is a shocker.

Now it’s time for you to make your way to the penthouse. Don’t mind the unholy mix of the new and the old; the real and the dream-like; the rich and the poor. When you get there you’ll know what to do, or not… Either way, you may have to leave it up to the building to decide.

Jonathan Sims has written a cracker of a horror novel, and I am delightfully impressed. Thirteen Storeys makes me excited for the future of horror writers that are not Stephen King.

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