The Fifth House of the Heart

Treasures and monks and vampires: oh my!

No, it's not the latest Dan Brown book. It's a quirky Van Helsing-esque horror novel featuring a cowardly antiques dealer as the unlikely leader of a band of vampire hunters. And I'm using Van Helsing in a positive way, because I thought it was a fun movie, and also because Hugh Jackman. So if you didn't like that film, you may not enjoy The Fifth House of the Heart. Caveat lector and all that jazz. All that Latin? Whatever.

Asmodeous "Sax" Saxon-Tang is an unbelievably wealthy antiques dealer. As it turns out, the way to get the best pieces is to (inadvertently, at first) rob a vampire. The vampires of this novel are not fang-baring, shadow-slinking Bela Lugosis, nor are they seductive Romanian princes: they are literal monsters. Vampires are not human: they are another species, old as the earth, that has a strange and deadly symbiosis with humans. They take the shape of the creature whose blood they drink the most of, so naturally, with humans being the dominant and tastiest species, vampires look human. However, the typical trappings of Christianity used to slay vampires don't really work. Being another species, they don't really care about crosses or holy water or Jesus, but they are susceptible to certain naturally-occurring elements, like silver. But the general process of vampiric attack is the same; the vampries hypnotize their victims with a sort of sensory overload, then they drink their victims' blood. People who are merely bitten become infected, with three outcomes: they die, they live, or they exhibit signs of "false vampirism."

When one is hunting down a vampire's hoard, one tends to keep it quiet. So Sax is shocked and angered at an auction for an ormolu clock that no one should really care about--unless they knew its true provenance. A beautiful young woman bids an exorbitant amount against him, but in a fit of pique, Sax outbids her and wins the clock. However, he's suspicious. Why would a young woman be willing to pay so much for an admittedly dull-on-the-surface clock? She must have inside information, and Sax goes to his usual sources to try and stop the leak. But before he can figure out who told the young woman about the clock, the night watchman at his super-secure warehouse is brutally murdered, and the ormolu clock stolen.

Now, Sax is being taunted by an unknown vampire, and he's going to get his revenge. The only person he really cares about is his niece, so before he jets off to Europe to assemble a crack team of vampire hunters (no really, just roll with it), he gives her a silver battle hammer used to whack vampires into submission. Much more reliable than the old stake in the heart, which really only works if it pierces the so-called "fifth house of the heart." One of the things that makes vampires vampriric has to do with this little appendage on their hearts. If you pierce the gland, the vampire dies. That's why ash stakes work so well--they splinter and get into every cardiac nook and cranny.

Sorry, tangent! Anyway, Sax first goes to the Vatican's Ordine dei Cavalieri Sacri dei Teutonici e dei Fiamminghi for one of their super-kick-butt vampire hunters(thing I just Googled: "does the Vatican hunt vampires?") and gets Paolo, a very tall, very handsome young monk. He also gets:
  • Min, a fanatic solo vampire hunter who has been stalking and killing the creatures since they murdered her parents and forced her to watch
  • the improbably named Manford K. Rocksaw, AKA Rock, who became a mercenary after a dishonorable discharge from the military
  • Georghe Vladimirescu, a Romanian whose motives and abilities remain nebulous but is basically the token uncouth in the group.
Later, they are joined by even more monks and Sax's beloved niece, Emily.

The narrative jumps back and forth in time as Sax recounts his first and second encounters with vampires. Tripp manages the time-hopping well, and the story is a lot of fun. It's basically Dracula where Van Helsing is actually the cast of The Wild Bunch. Sax straddles the line between hero and anti-hero and is generally an interesting protagonist. The one qualm I have with the book also has to do with Sax--specifically, the fact that Sax is gay and this is brought up seemingly every other paragraph.

On one hand, there aren't a lot of books in this vein (that I know of) that feature an elderly gay man as protagonist, but the constant commentary about how Sax would like to date such-and-such a character or how he knows all the slurs in all the languages because he's such a hip old gay dude ... it's just overkill. Mind, it would be equally as irritating if Sax were straight and said things about how horny he was for a girl every other paragraph. It's just unnecessary in terms of the narrative and for characterization. I get it. Sax is shallow and selfish and cowardly (he also says that at least once a chapter). And after all is said and done, nothing really happens between Sax and anybody. We are seeing him at the twilight of his life, and he's just too dang tired for romance. So why all of this narrative interruption for a wink-wink-nudge-nudge-say-no-more?

Overall, however, this was quite fun, and I enjoyed the mixture of formulaicity and quirkiness in the way this particular mythos is constructed. I would certainly not be averse to further adventures with Sax and Emily. Tripp has also written some zombie novels that I'm going to check out next.


  1. Sounds like an entertainingly over the top romp. And yes, I've seen Van Helsing, which, I hope you realise, has three of my countrymen in the leads. ;-) I read that when David Wenham, who had not yet played the gorgeous Faramir wanted the role of the ugly monk, he sent a photo of himself appropriately made up. He was, at the time, starring in a TV show called Sea Change, as a delightful, wise and witty man called Diver Dan, the heroine's love interest, but nobody in the U.S. had heard of him. When the producer asked Richard Roxburgh who this guy was, he said, "He's a sex symbol in Australia."

    1. It's been far too long since I watched the movie--I'm pottering through the IMdB info and there are quite a lot of famous people in it! Props to Australia for the representation!

      Huh, Wenham is also in the new Pirates movie, which I will see because I am a sucker for Geoffrey Rush as Barbossa.

    2. Only saw the first Pirates movie, never got around to the others, but I recall Geoffrey Rush being interviewed about it and asked, "Are you going to say, 'aargh,'." and replying, "It's a pirate movie! You've got to say, 'Aargh!'"

      A fine actor, yes - and do is David Wenham. I saw him a while back on stage as John Proctor in The Crucible. Must get to see Lion.

    3. The first one is my favorite anyway, and easily stands alone. The next two are a bit draggy and waterlogged with romantic angst (ugh).

      Geoffrey Rush is a treasure.


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