Whether burned or bloody, Jonathan Barnes does love to see London in complete chaos. It happened in his last novel The Somnambulist, and has now continued in The Domino Men. Few things crossover between the two, save the intriguingly bizarre characters constituting his uber-secret and not-so-normal civil service division called The Directorate. Oh, and The Prefects, can’t forget them.
The story centers around Henry Lamb, a completely ordinary though perhaps even dull, clerk who through a series of extraordinary though familial events is drawn into a hunt, a race to prevent London’s descent into utter ruin. By all accounts he has no business within the Directorate or even approaching The Domino Men, the only ones who can either help or even destroy the chances for success.
Barnes excellently scripts his mystery around the fog that continually encompasses London, though he also lowers a fog over the reader’s mind as well, keeping us in the dark about the major players of the novel. He offers breadcrumbs about the Directorate and the Domino Men, the comatose grandfather of Henry, and the ever over-confident mastermind Director Dedlock, though his description is never enough to quash the ever-lingering questions the reader may conjure. A frustrating yet gripping method. We know of a battle waged for centuries and that the Prefects are dangerous to say the least, but Barnes, hopefully in anticipation of another novel, tells us only what were allowed to know of the process. All that is requested is that we must “trust the process”. And in the end, the distinction of who the villain was is not at all clear.
In several ways the Domino Men surpasses The Somnambulist; the ending is much more captivating though at times the pacing can be a bit slower. His inclusion and description of the aristocracy (Prince Arthur in particular) is quite interesting, for it is neither kind nor overtly cruel. The Prefects, however, were a bit under-described as they were in the former. Their playfully comic nastiness, hinted to atmospheric levels, falls just short of their behaviour, though admittedly ruthless and reckless as the story hits its crescendo. Their actions are more a vehicle of the story than the framework. Overall, its another fascinating story about London, manipulated by all creatures forceful and ubiquitously normal. Fun yet creepy, one can only wonder how many times and what twisted ways London has fallen and yet continues to rebuild itself in the mind of Barnes.