I received this book for free from the NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Fifth House of the Heart by Ben Tripp
Published by Gallery Books on July 28 2015
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The nitty-gritty: A stylish, horrifying and wryly humorous reading experience like no other.
The weather that day was warm in the sunlight, cold in the shade. It had been a terrible summer in Manhattan, humid and wet; now the autumn was dry but feverish, with skies that seemed somehow the wrong color, lurid, like old nickel postcards of New England scenes. Winter would come eventually, and it would be ferocious.
Sax wondered, without much emotion, if he would live to see the spring.
Curious about Ben Tripp’s latest? Well, you should be. For those of you who like comparisons, I’m calling this one “Dracula meets Ocean’s Eleven.” The simplest way to describe it would be a heist story with vampires. But it’s so much more. The Fifth House of the Heart has officially risen to the top of my favorite books so far this year, and I would have to say it’s neck and neck with Daryl Gregory’s Afterparty at the moment.
There are layers upon layers to this complex story, but here’s the basic plot. Asmodeus Saxon-Tang (or Sax for short) is a notorious antiques dealer who has made a name for himself amassing incredible wealth over the years, mostly by seeking out vampire lairs and stealing their treasures. But his latest acquisition, a French Napoleon ormolu clock, has earned him the unwanted attention of a very dangerous vampire, and Sax fears his days may be numbered. When the clock is stolen from his warehouse, he knows exactly who stole it: the dreaded vampire. Sax gathers together a motley crew of thieves and killers to track down the vampire, and the game is afoot.
Oh, there is so much to talk about in this review! I’ve decided to abandon my regular format, and bring you my Top Ten Reasons To Read The Fifth House of the Heart instead:
“I’ve been infected since nineteen hundred and sixty-five, mate,” Sax complained. “There’s more vampire junk in me than in Nosferatu’s underpants.”
Sax is one of the most unique and enjoyable characters I’ve run across in a long time. He absolutely steals the show, and his wry humor and self-deprecating ways earned him a permanent home in my heart. Sax is a seventy-something unabashedly gay man, and despite his uncertain ability to keep an erection, he’s continually making titillating sexual comments. When he meets Fra Paolo, the young priest who joins the crew, he makes it his mission to seduce him. (Or at least that’s what he tells himself.) Sax admits he’s a coward, despite all his adventures with vampires, and yet he’s willing to walk into danger in order to save his friends.
2. The rest of the characters.
Sax may steal the show, but the story wouldn’t be nearly as interesting without the supporting characters. I absolutely loved the mismatched group of people he gathers together as his crew, to infiltrate the vampire’s lair: Paolo, the priest, who is lusting after Sax’s niece Emily; Min, the vampire killer, who has her own score to settle; Rock, the muscle, a big, bold and lovable hunk of man whose bravery is unmatched; Abingdon, the forger, who wants to sleep with everyone; and Gheorghe, the Romanian burglar. And more. Yes, it’s a big cast of characters, but somehow Tripp makes them all fit together.
3. The writing.
Ben Tripp is such a good writer he could probably convince the devil to let him go, were he ever to find himself trapped in Hell. There were so many times while I was reading that I wanted to grab someone and read out loud to them. I could honestly fill this review with quotes from the story, but I’d rather you discover (most of) them for yourself.
4. The humor.
I seriously laughed out loud more than I’ve ever laughed out loud before, while reading this book. Humor and timing go hand in hand, and Tripp has both down to a science. Sax had a way of stating the obvious that just worked for me every time. And Sax isn’t the only character who made me chuckle. One of my favorite lines in the entire book—and there were a lot of them—was when Min is watching Abingdon forging weapons, wondering if she should sleep with him. She then observes that “He was just an erection with a man standing behind it.”
5. The history.
Tripp’s story spans not only the world—different scenes take place in Manhattan, Paris, England, Czechoslovakia, Mumbai and Rome—but centuries. We get to see Sax as a young man just making a name for himself, but Tripp takes us back even further, to the discovery of vampires in the Holy Land nearly a thousand years ago. I truly felt the weight of history while reading this book.
6. The story construction.
The Fifth House of the Heart is full of stories within stories within stories. Tripp leads the reader down a path that turns into a cave then falls down a rabbit hole. During his adventure in the present day, he remembers his dangerous encounters with two other vampires, one in 1965 and one in 1989, seamlessly tying everything neatly together. It was one of the most masterful displays of story building I’ve ever seen.
7. The details.
It was an odor Sax loved. It was the smell of ancient beauty, of things that needed bringing back to life. Gentle cleaning, damp sponges, white vinegar, beeswax and oil, new air, new eyes to gaze upon them: time itself leaves a skin on things, the way the air leaves sulfur on silver, turning it black. When that obscuring film is removed, the light in the heart of things radiates. The beauty, like some princess in a story by Perrault, awakens after a long sleep.
By making Sax a collector of all things antique, Tripp has wonderful opportunities to describe incredible works of art, antique furniture and fixtures, and rare gems in loving detail. And I never got bored with these descriptions. In fact, I eagerly soaked it all up. I could visualize each item as Tripp described it, and I could tell these details were carefully and painstakingly researched. Before this book, I had no idea there were famous paintings that have been lost to the world, and now I want to know more! And wait until you read his descriptions of food…
8. The name dropping.
Because Sax is so well known and infamous in his own right, he’s met some very interesting people over the past fifty years, including George Harrison, Grace Slick, and Givenchy, to name a few. I loved the way he remembers each one fondly,
9. The action.
The story may start out slow and meandering, but watch out, because just when you least expect it, all hell breaks loose. The Fifth House of the Heart is a page-turner even before the action starts, so you can imagine how quickly you’ll be turning pages once the gang meets up with the vampires. And remember, this is a heist story, which means Sax and his friends are stealing stuff. And sometimes things go wrong, and then you get more action.
10. The vampires.
And yes, the vampires are terrifying. I loved Tripp’s take on them, because even though vampires have been reinvented thousands of times, he manages to come up with fresh ideas, including the only way to truly kill a vampire, which I’ll let you discover for yourself. (Hint: it has something to do with the title of the book.) You won’t find any handsome, brooding types here. These vamps are fast and strong and deadly. Oh, and they love to collect beautiful things, which makes them the perfect target for one very determined collector of antiques. There were times when I clearly felt the influence of Dracula, its atmospheric and slow creeping terror, but there were other times when the story felt completely new.
If you read one horror story this year, I hope you’ll read this one, because it’s so much more than just a simple vampire tale. The Fifth House of the Heart is a feast of humor, beauty, terror and emotion. And blood, of course. Highly recommended.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy. Quotes above were taken from an uncorrected proof and may differ in the final version of the book.