The Fifth Heart

Written by Dan Simmons
Review by Bryan Dumas

What happens when a despondent and suicidal Henry James meets Sherlock Holmes on the banks of the Seine in Paris in 1893? In the hands of Simmons, a mystery on par with many Holmes stories.

Holmes, in disguise as a Norwegian after having faked his own death, is also contemplating suicide, but instead enlists James to help him solve the murder of Clover Adams, wife of Henry Adams, and member of the secretive Fifth Heart Club. Along the way, Holmes and James cross paths with a number of historical people, including Samuel Clemens, John Hay, and Teddy Roosevelt, as well as fictional characters from Holmes lore, including Irene Adler and Moriarty – both of which provide a unique Holmes novel twist in the end. In order to solve the murder, Holmes and James travel from Paris to New York to D.C., and eventually to the World’s Fair in Chicago. Besides trying to solve the murder, Holmes is also struggling with the notion that he may not even be real – that he may just be a figment of some writer’s imagination.

This is a book that demands your attention. At over 600 pages and with metafiction and historical details that border on the extreme, this is one book that you have to be geared up to read. My biggest complaints are that there were too many sections that felt unnecessary to the overall plot, and Simmons’ attention to historical details dragged down the pacing. I wanted to love this book, the concept is so unique, but I just couldn’t. Simmons’ writing is at times humorous and devilishly sly, and when the pace picks up, it is evident why so many people enjoy his writing. Devotees of Simmons will laud this book; if you are not one, you will have to really want to read it.