The Fifth Heart

Dan Simmons
The Fifth Heart Cover

Doesn't Quite Hit All Cylinders


This novel was an interesting read, or maybe I should listen as I "read" it as an audiobook. The premise is fairly simple. The great detective Sherlock Holmes presses novelist Henry James into service as his sidekick in unraveling the death of one of James' close friends. Although the death has been ruled a suicide, Holmes has been hired by the woman's unstable brother to look into the case as a murder investigation. Along with this investigation, Holmes is also chasing an international assassin who plans on murdering President Grover Cleveland and the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago. There is also an added subplot where Holmes is trying to ascertain whether he is a real person or merely a fictional character.

Dan Simmons seems to be trying to do a lot with this book. Apparently meant as something of a literary mash-up between the Sherlock Holmes adventures written by Arthur Conan Doyle and Henry James' own works, The Fifth Heart has a large cast of characters ranging from historical figures such as Sam Clemens, Theodore Roosevelt and John Hay, to the decidedly fictional characters of Irene Adler and Professor James Moriarty. Intermixed with the mystery and thriller aspects of the novel are ruminations on the relationships between writers and their characters. Simmons breaks the fourth wall several times during the novel's generous 600+ page length, including a lengthy dissertation on the shifting of narrative perspectives from James' to Holmes'. There is even a scene where Holmes, in a drug-induced vision, looks through the words of the page of the book you are reading. As a mystery and thriller, the book largely succeeds but as a piece of metafiction, I'm not so sure.

David Pittu narrated the audiobook and was fantastic! In many cases, I knew who was talking before the dialogue sentences got to the "said (insert name)" portion. He added accent, tone, pitch and even gruffness to each of the many, many characters in the novel, giving each a unique, distinct voice. I would gladly listen to more audiobooks read by him. Pittu is a stage and screen actor who has appeared on the big screen in Peter Jackson's remake of King Kong and Men in Black 3 and on the small screen in such series as Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Damages.