27. Wild Card: Thirteen Storeys by Jonathan Sims
List Progress: 7/30
Jonathan Sims spent two hundred episodes of an audio drama, The Magnus Archives, developing a very particular writing style. He set out to make an encompassing work of horror fiction, weaving together individual short stories with a larger arc plot, and even named the main character after himself. Most likely, The Magnus Archives will be his magnum opus, a staggering work of breadth, depth and quality. And his first novel, Thirteen Storeys…will also be something he wrote. It is not a bad novel, but it is so similar-but-inferior to The Magnus Archives that it seems destined to be a footnote.
Thirteen Storeys tells the tale of Banyan Court, a luxury apartment building in London built by billionaire recluse Tobias Fell. Fell lives in the penthouse, wealthy people live in the gleaming front of the building, and the back of the building is dedicated to shoddy “affordable housing”, complete with a separate entrance for the riff-raff to use. The prologue tells about how Fell held a dinner party five years ago, attended by twelve random residents of both sides of the building, and was mysteriously murdered. Each chapter then follows one of the residents, as they are plagued by supernatural forces at play in the apartment, and eventually given their dire invitations. This isn’t strictly speaking a collection of short stories, as several characters weave through all of the tales, and they come together at the end for the dinner party. But some of the chapters are quite distinct, like the statements from The Magnus Archives, and only become united in the larger view, while others are inextricable from the whole.
The chapters in this book that work, really work. “The Knock”, “Sleepless”, and “Old Plumbing” are all just great pieces of horror writing, and Sims has a flair for quick characterization that makes you care about each of the residents. “Inbox”, “Viewing Essential” and “Round the Clock” do the best at portraying the full scale of Tobias Fell’s evil and how he manipulates systematic oppression to torture those under him. But at its weakest, Thirteen Storeys will toss together hokey horror cliches and try to cram them into larger themes that they’re not quite strong enough to hold up. “Night Work”, “Bad Penny”, and especially “Smart” are just creepypastas with aspirations to mean something bigger.
It is hard to get mad at Thirteen Storeys, partly because of its shining moments, and partly because it is so clearly sitting uncomfortably with how much it should have in common with The Magnus Archives. (Sims clearly has some character archetypes that he has particular affection for.) But when the ending tries to bring it all together, it becomes clear that Thirteen Storeys is less than the sum of its parts. Or to borrow its own metaphor: some of the apartments are nice, but others could use some refurbishing.
Would I Recommend It: No, unless you’re a dedicated Jonny Sims fan.