Asmodeus “Sax” Saxon-Tang is an aging antiques dealer who just outbid a
woman on an over-priced antique clock in an auction. Later that night
the clock is stolen and the watchman for Sax’s warehouse is murdered.
Sax knows who wanted the clock and who would be willing to kill for it.
Vampires! For Sax has tangled with them before. What he doesn’t know is
why nor does he know that the particular vampire who would have a motive
to steal it is the one who almost killed him before. Now Sax, despite
his age and what he sees as having a natural cowardice tendency which is
only beaten by his greed, will assemble a team and reclaim his prize
even though he knows it may be the last thing he will do.
That is the starting premise of The Fifth House of the Heart
which may be one of best vampire novels in years. It is certainly a
trifle different than the recent horde of undead fiction. Tripp has
already had his fling recasting zombies in the unconventional Rise Again
novels and he seems to want to do the same thing with vampires. The
author‘s vampires are close enough to be familiar but have their own
little variations that make them different and interesting. Tripp’s
vampires are ancient, basically natural creatures who are practically
ageless yet they are, for the most part, solitary and vicious with a
vain urge to collect priceless relics of the past which explains why an
antique dealer would risk his life pursuing them. Crosses and garlic do
not work but Sax and his fellow vampire hunters have their own special
arsenal to battle the creatures’ unique physiology. And therein lies the
clue to the book’s title.
But while Tripp’s take on vampires is
intriguing, it is Saxon-Tang himself that pulls the story together. Sax
is aging, vain, and a self-proclaimed coward. Yet his love for his work
and his pronounced greed tempts him into putting his life at risk
several times. It also places himself in the radar of the vampires. The
third person narration is usually in the perspective of Sax so we gets a
good perspective of his motives and his own conflictual views of his
life and his goals. It is that conflict that drives his mission while he
seeks out help from the Catholic Church, worries about his niece who
seems to be the only person that can pull him out of his self-centered
thoughts, and lusts after the young monk that the church orders to
accompany him on his quest.
The action in The Fifth House of the Heart
is impeccable, moving at lightning speed. It is the best part of the
book. Two scenes take place as flashbacks, one in 1965 and another in
1989. The rest of the book, and the climatic ending, takes place in
present day. It is these very exciting parts of the novel that highlight
one of the book’s weakness. Once the horror is done, much of the rest
of the novel seems like set-ups for the thrills. We follow Sax’s journey
and his collection of his team yet despite some very clever writing and
dialog we yearn for the meaty parts. Except for the young monk Paolo,
the rest of the team feels like filler.
Fortunately when all is
done and bled, there ends up more meat than fat. Sax may have flaws and
be slightly sleazy but he is very clever and sometimes wise. He
embodies us older people who are set in our ways yet still have room for
improvement. I just hope I do not need to battle vampires to find that
improvement. Overall The Fifth House of the Heart is a welcome
addition to the vampire genre and if it tends to drag a little too much
in parts for my taste, it is still a rollicking bloody epic of a story.