The Fifth Heart by Dan Simmons

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The Fifth Heart by Dan Simmons

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: A chance meeting of American writer Henry James and British detective Sherlock Holmes leads to intrigue in the US. Belief may need suspension but it's still clever and rollicking fun – even for ACD fans.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 624 Date: March 2015
Publisher: Sphere
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0751560954

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On a rainy night in March 1893 Henry James stands on a Paris bridge, about to end it all. Next to him sidles Sherlock Holmes, about to do the same. Instead of jumping, Holmes drags James off for a drink and decides that they will go to America to solve a 17-year-old murder case. The supposed victim, socialite Clover Adams, is believed to have committed suicide but that doesn't deter Sherlock. He's off, Henry James is going with him and that's that!

American author Dan Simmons started out as a teacher before completing his first story on the day his daughter was born in 1982. All these years later Dan enjoys blurring genre borders in his novels; something he's demonstrated well in The Fifth Heart as he mixes historical fiction with fact and a Holmes pastiche with a satisfying amount of surrealism.

Surrealism? Oh yes! Chapter 4 is a complete study in the surreal and a dose of sheer genius. I won't spoil it for you but with Holmes' wonderful deductions about himself and about Conan Doyle's writing that emerge during a conversation with James, Simmons provides the perfect get out of gaol free card for any inconsistencies that may arise. It also proves how well into his own cheek Dan's tongue is thrust as he offers us a Sherlock to whom both newbies and aficionados will warm.

It's definitely the detective who takes centre stage. Sherlock maintains all the obscure astuteness and wit of the original along with the drug habit, each being heightened by Dan rather than duplicated slavishly. In doing so this becomes a book we wouldn't want our kids to see (the narcotic scenes are graphically authentic) but it makes it more compulsive for we adults. Henry James still has viewpoint chapters of his own and becomes a very reluctant US Dr Watson but it's his antagonist who takes centre stage throughout.

Henry James isn't the only real life character we encounter. The late Clover and her family also existed and, to all intents and purposes, she did commit suicide... as far as we know. Meanwhile Holmes also runs into names (and cites adventures) from his past as the author proves he's done his research and is able to translate his findings into embellishment and a ripping yarn.

I do feel duty bound to look at the downside though, slight as it may be. As much as I loved the Simmons interpretation and the addition of grumpy bloke Henry J, there are a couple of small things that may niggle depending on your propensity towards such things.

Firstly, as can be deduced from the book's breeze block thickness, it seems a little over written in places but for me that feeling never lasted very long. Fascinating period detail or the magic of the Holmes/James combo kicks in and we're away again.

The second thing is that we need to be prepared to suspend disbelief perhaps a little more than normal for hist fict crime. For instance, Henry James' utter dislike of Holmes doesn't stop him going to America and sticking with him when others may have just left him to it.

If you can put these wannabe-snags to the back of your mind, there are rewards. Indeed, in an ever growing landscape of Holmes pastiches and tributes, The Fifth Heart certainly has its place and is much nearer the cream at the top than the dregs at the bottom. It's most definitely worth a read!

Thank you, Sphere for providing us with a copy for review.

Further Reading: If you'd like to read more of the history of Holmes' times, we recommend Close to Holmes: A Look at the Connections Between Historical London, Sherlock Holmes and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle by Alistair Duncan. If you came to Holmes via the TV show then try Sherlock: Chronicles by Steve Tribe. However if you enjoy the latterly written nods to the original master, we definitely recommend Sherlock Holmes: Gods of War by James Lovegrove.

Buy The Fifth Heart by Dan Simmons at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Fifth Heart by Dan Simmons at

Buy The Fifth Heart by Dan Simmons at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Fifth Heart by Dan Simmons at


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