This book contains an editor’s note assuring readers that the story they’re about to read is absolutely true. When a novel’s first order of business is to convince the reader of its authenticity, it means the ride’s going to be a doozy.
The autobiographer of ‘The Domino Men’ is Henry Lamb, an utterly boring child-actor has-been, now a filing clerk, who finds himself forcibly recruited by the Directorate. The ancient head of the organization (who, strangely enough, floats in a fish tank) informs him that they are secretly at war with England’s royal family. The crown has promised London to an otherworld monstrosity, Leviathan. The souls of the city will be forfeit unless its arrival is stopped. Somehow, clueless, utterly boring Henry is the key.
It sounds like a plot straight out of BBC’s ‘Doctor Who.’ If you happen to be a Whovian, you’re going to enjoy this book.
Even if you’re not fond of or familiar with ‘Doctor Who,’ Jonathan Barnes’ ‘Domino Men’ is a treat. Extremely well-written, it twists the real world to a bizarre angle. A mix of vaguely magical pseudo-science and the supernatural, it features a host of strange characters, shades of the past, murderous, drug-induced hallucinations, demonic sacrifices, and a pair of non-humans whose idea of a joke is a bloody massacre.
Throughout, Barnes maintains the veneer of the “real world” through Henry’s desire to hold on to the simple things in life. (He’s got a thin for his landlady and always returns to her after the weirdness of the Directorate). As well, Barnes’ descriptive imagery consistently goes beyond simply painting a scene, imbuing the novel with a sense of humanity’s mass and its pessimistic complacency.
The author also understands that some things are scarier in the shadows, not fully spelled out. He deals out the same level of subtle terror featured in movies such as the black and white original version of ‘The Village of the Damned’ or ‘The Others.’ Yet at the same time, he knows when vague descriptions and references will not instill real fear, and can paint such lurid, yet matter-of-fact depictions of casual violence that you will find your face screwed up in disgust throughout the entire passage.
The pace builds slowly, but Barnes still manages to keep readers hooked until (and past) the climax – and a very odd climax it is. It’s so absurd, that even if you do pick up the clues before the great unveiling, the author of this review promises you’ll laugh in disbelief.