Book Review: Castle Heights

I am a bit obsessed with books. I have a scandalous amount and I won’t admit to the number that I haven’t even read yet. But prized amongst my books are anthologies. There’s something about a collection of bite-sized stories that hits the spot with me. Don’t get me wrong, I love getting lost in a full length novel, but I also love having that condensed selection to stroll through – picking up different flavours and feelings that are even more apparent if the anthology is by different contributing writers. And of course, the genre I love in my short stories is horror.

Castle Heights, is just such an anthology. A generous selection of 18 horrifying stories (with a lovely play on words in the title), all set within a single night of the aging aforementioned tower block.

Castle Heights is the brain child of writer Tony sands and film director M J Dixon. During lockdown they had the idea to bring together a group of horror writers to create something us horror fans could use to escape the troubling times we find ourselves in. Creating this in the midst of a pandemic made Castle Heights an even more ambitious project than it would have usually been.

However, the challenge was successfully met, and Castle Heights is one hell of a book. Reading through the contents page, there are quite a few names I recognise, even a couple I know personally (Ahem… Mr Rickard of London Horror Society!). But what was even more pleasing was seeing the number of names I didn’t know, and getting the opportunity to discover more about them.

This anthology provides a really diverse set of stories. It would be so easy to tread the same ground in terms of themes and threats, but each story here is notably different from the next. Of course, there are a few ghost stories and more than one monster and demon story. But that’s in no way a bad thing, and that’s where the similarities stop.

Despite having a categorically similar threat to a protagonist, the actual journey I was taken on was incredibly individual. I don’t want to spoil any of the stories, but there were several ideas in here that on paper I would have laughed at as a suggested horror story, but they work! Again I won’t spoil anything, but just wait until you start reading a story that involves candles, toilets and bowler hats!

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The work here isn’t limited to horror – there’s also a little sci-fi for you science enthusiasts and the odd humorous tale. Every story does have some chilling factor though. Some times gross out, sometimes creepy, sometimes look over your shoulder terrifying; I genuinely feel that if you enjoy reading short horror stories, then you will enjoy Castle Heights, because there is something for everyone no matter the tastes. And let’s be perfectly honest, as an anthology of different writers with different styles, you’re not going to fall in love with every entry. That’s the beauty of it though. In reading this book, you may well discover new writers and new styles that you may not have considered trying before.

Beyond the individual stories themselves, what I really loved about Castle Heights was how real it feels. I don’t mean the man-eating walls, interdimensional monsters, or black-eyed children. What I mean is, a world has been created that feels tangible. Castle Heights feels like a tower block that I wouldn’t stay in, but may possibly visit! This has been achieved by the quality of the writing that has consistently breathed life into this imaginary tower, and the remarkable work of Sands and Dixon who somehow have managed to coordinate a running thread of events through the stories. Several things happen over the course of this fateful night that appear in the stories. Whether it be a blackout, the creepy concierge or a television programme – in each story something happens that anchors it to another, and that creates a realism that writers strive for and readers yearn for.

I really enjoyed Castle Heights. Not every story was for me, but that’s personal taste and says nothing about the quality of writing. Each writer has earned their place in this collection, and each story complements the next. I have found several writers whose work I’m going to look into more, and I wouldn’t hesitate in picking up another anthology organised by Sands and Dixon, based on the quality on offer here. A fantastic read that I highly recommend.

By: Chris Stagg

Castle Heights is available now on Amazon through Red Cape Publishing