The Fifth House of the Heart, by Ben Tripp

23705513How far would you go for treasures? Would you risk more if the treasure was worth millions? How about billions? How much would be enough to risk your life against a vampire that will rip you to shreds as soon as look at you? Asmodeus Saxon-Tang (yes, he knows how ridiculous his name is, thank you very much) has a high price, but as he sits in an auction at the beginning of Ben Tripp’s The Fifth House of the Heart, Sax thinks his days of stealing hoards from vampires are over. The auction goes his way and Sax walks away with a ormolu clock. Days later, the clock is stolen and the nightwatchman is dead. Sax is sure that a vampire is behind it. The clock was worth $20,000, but if Sax can destroy the vampire who stole it, he’ll get first pick of whatever goodies the creature has collected over the centuries.

Sax’s theory is not as crazy as it sounds. He’s tangled with vampires before. In 1965, while looting a supposedly uninhabited maison in the French countryside, Sax almost died when the vampire of the house slaughtered most of the raiding party. Sax started out as a fairly ordinary, if incredibly charming, antiques dealer. He thought his friend Jean-Marc had incredible luck to find a maison that hadn’t been touched since the beginning of the nineteenth century. There was no reason to think that anything would go wrong. And then the vampire showed up. Sax survived by the skin of his teeth and dumb luck. After that, he followed legends and myths to find other vampire hoards. (Finding vampires was incidental.) He found another in the Czech Republic in 1989 and got rich, but only after shattering his leg. By the time we join Sax in The Fifth House of the Heart, he is semi-retired. He leaves the vampires alone. He’s in his 70s and walks with a cane; he doesn’t have much stamina anymore. That said, however, he doesn’t want to just rollover for the thing that stole his clock…and might be sitting on a fortune if he can kill it before it kills him.

Most of The Fifth House of the Heart follows Sax as he assembles a team for one last score. Tripp does briefly shift the narrator’s eye to Nilu, an Indian actress who’s been attacked by a vampire; Min, a Korean vampire hunter; and Paolo, a monk who’s a member of the Vatican’s vampire-killing order. The action movies from New York to Mumbai to Rome to rural France to mountainous southern Germany. There are bloody set pieces and characters that one would never have suspected of being redshirts are horribly dispatched by vampires and their minions.

Sax carries the less bloody parts of the novel with his droll sense of humor and flamboyant personality. He professes over and over that he’s a coward. His actions belie this, however. Sax is tempted to run away more than once, but when the chips are down, he manages to summon the courage he needs to put heart back into his companions or to strike the crucial blow or to rescue someone from the literal jaws of a vampire. It’s hard to say how much Sax buys into his personal myth. At times, he wants to quit. But his justification for quitting is sparing the lives of his teammates. If Sax is occasionally cowardly, it’s for noble reasons. If he’s motivated by avarice for beautiful things, Sax helps to find kill vampires before they can kill more innocents. If Sax occasionally lusts after beautiful men, well, I can sympathize.

I wasn’t sure about The Fifth House of the Heart when I first started. In this day and age, what’s left for the vampire? Even if they don’t sparkle, it’s hard to take them seriously after their most recent appearances in popular culture. Tripp makes them terrifying again. The vampires in this book are alien creatures. They’re powerful and beautiful in the way dragons might be. But there’s no doubt that these monsters see humans only as prey. For me, the treasures Sax finds wouldn’t be enough to tempt me into walking into a vampire’s lair. I’d be a redshirt. Sax should be a redshirt. He’s one of the most unlikely heroes I’ve ever seen. I had a great time reading this book.

I received a free copy of this ebook from NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. It will be released 28 July 2015.

Notes on bibliotherapeutic use: Recommended for readers who covet shiny things.

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