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The Domino Men: A Novel
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The Domino Men: A Novel

4.2 7
by Jonathan Barnes

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In an earlier century, Queen Victoria made a Faustian bargain, signing London and all its souls away to a nefarious, inhuman entity. Now, generations later, the bill has finally come due. . . .

An amiable, unambitious London file clerk, Henry Lamb leads an unremarkable life—until the day he learns he's expected to assume the covert responsibilities of his


In an earlier century, Queen Victoria made a Faustian bargain, signing London and all its souls away to a nefarious, inhuman entity. Now, generations later, the bill has finally come due. . . .

An amiable, unambitious London file clerk, Henry Lamb leads an unremarkable life—until the day he learns he's expected to assume the covert responsibilities of his universally despised, now comatose grandfather. London is at war, and a shadowy organization known (to a very few) as the Directorate wishes to recruit Henry to the cause. All he has to do is find "the girl," save the world from the monster Leviathan, and defeat the unspeakable evil lurking in the cellar of 10 Downing Street: the serial-slaying schoolboy twins known as the Domino Men.

Editorial Reviews

Entertainment Weekly
“Old school entertainment in the penny-dreadful tradition that almost succeeds in being as sublime as it is ridiculous.”
Washington Post
“Strange, outrageous, and wonderful … There is much that is strange, magical, and darkly hilarious about this book … An original and monumentally inventive piece of work by a writer still in his 20s. Barnes seems to leave himself room for a sequel—a consummation devoutly to be wished.”
Chicago Sun-Times
“If you only read one black comedy with the brains and labyrinthine twists of Vedantic hair-splitting, make it this one....a gripping yarn.”
Rocky Mountain News
“The best fantasy novel of the year.”
The Guardian
“A wonderfully original concoction of grotesque humour and sparkling prose.”
The Observer
“This promising debut subverts its 19th-century predecessors amusingly. Inventive and often witty. A cabinet crammed with curiosities.”
Washington Post Book World
“Unmatched life and verve.”
The Onion
“Marvelously imaginative.”
Denver Rocky Mountain News
“A fantastic novel.”
Michael Marshall
“Magical, dark, beautifully odd–and utterly compelling–this is an astonishing debut.”
Christopher Bram
“A comic extravaganza, deftly plotted, fiendishly clever, and wonderfully funny. . . . One of the classiest entertainments I’ve read.”
James Morrow
“Macabre wit and stylistic panache. Parliament should immediately pass a law requiring Barnes to write a sequel.”
San Antonio Express-News
“Another remarkable outing, an infectious blend of wit, wonder, and the bizarre presented with remarkable style. This is literary fiction for the genre fiction set, or possibly the other way around...genuinely shocking and inventive.”
Colorado Springs Independent
“Kudos Barnes for another winner that is as funny as it is creepy, as thought provoking as it is entertaining.”
mX Brisbane (Australia)
“Nothing about Barnes’s follow-up to The Somnabulist is predictable....The grotesque fantasy world is a riot.”
Jeff Vandermeer
“Sneaky, cheeky, and dark in the best possible way, Jonathan Barnes’ massively entertaining The Somnambulist manages to make the familiar daringly unfamiliar. I enjoyed the heck out of this novel.”
More than a century ago, the ever-pragmatic Queen Victoria made a Faustian bargain with a despicable entity. Now the bill is coming due, and it's not simply a case of compound interest. The soul of every man, woman, and child in London is at a stake. An imaginative literary fantasy spy thriller follow-up to The Somnambulist, perfect for budding conspiracy theorists.
Jeff VanderMeer
…remember the book's title, which turns the spotlight on the Domino Men, those "creatures of fire and sulphur." Introduced in The Somnambulist, this leering pair, otherwise known as Hawker and Boon, are terrifying in a jovial, vaudevillian way: a demented, supernatural Tweedledum and Tweedledee who take pleasure in pain. They are Barnes's greatest achievement in this novel, and he gives them unmatched life and verve.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Barnes's second novel, a compelling supernatural thriller, shows his impressive debut, The Somnambulist(2008), was no fluke. Shadowy figures working for a covert government agency called the Directorate inform Henry Lamb, a clerk with London's civil service archive unit, that his grandfather, recently felled by a stroke, was once a major player in their secret war against the House of Windsor. In 1857, Queen Victoria promised the souls of the people of London to a monstrous Lovecraftian entity known as the Leviathan. Now the bill is due. Since Lamb's grandfather held the secret to the whereabouts of a woman named Estella, who's critical to containing the Leviathan, the members of the Directorate regard Lamb as their best hope for locating Estella. Thanks to Barnes's evocative prose, readers will easily suspend disbelief. Those who enjoy the grafting of fantasy elements onto contemporary urban landscapes will be more than satisfied. (Feb.)

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Kirkus Reviews
The House of Windsor resembles that of Atreus while the Marx Brothers housesit, in this credibility-challenged sequel to British author Barnes's debut period melodrama The Somnambulist (2008). This one, while set in a recognizable present time, defies both logic and clear summary. Nevertheless, here's what seems to be afoot. When civil-service filing clerk Henry Lamb visits his grandfather, who has suffered a stroke, Henry is accosted, in a way, as he leaves the hospital, when a window cleaner falls to his death, but not before uttering the last words, "The answer is yes." That message will authorize Henry's entry into the shadowy world of the Directorate, a secret society (also active in The Somnambulist) waging an ongoing war against the current royal family. For Good Queen Victoria, we learn, had done something quite naughty-selling the souls of her subjects to a monstrous entity known as Leviathan, presently chained below the earth (rather like poor Prometheus), but likely to be unleashed if the Windsors' wickedness is not deflected by the hardy boys of the Directorate. You see, this drug-addicted Prince of Wales will keep mucking things up. Henry is a somewhat beguiling Unlikely Hero, and things do improve periodically with the appearances of two especially loathsome hired killers, who are perhaps on loan from Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere. Alas, even their enthusiastic sadism grows tiresome. Likewise, the display of disgustingly visceral special effects loses its charm after several orgies of slaughter. The plot is kept boiling, but the effect is somewhat like that of a toy train repeatedly hiccupping each time it passes over the same bump in the rug. There weren't this many climaxes inHenry Miller's Tropic of Cancer trilogy (besides, it was funnier). Charles and Camilla will not be amused.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
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5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Domino Men

By Jonathan Barnes
William Morrow
Copyright © 2009

Jonathan Barnes All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-06-167140-1

Chapter One I'm horribly aware, as I sit at the desk in this room that you've lent me, that time is now very short for me indeed. Outside, the light of day is fading fast; in here, the ticking of the clock sounds close to deafening.

I've come to terms with the fact that I won't have time to write everything that I'd hoped-my definitive history of the war, from its origins in the dreams of the nineteenth century to the grisly skirmishes of my granddad's day to the recent, catastrophic battle in which you and I played modest parts. No, I simply have to hope that there'll be time enough for me to set down my own story, or at least as much of it as I can remember before the thing which sleeps inside me wakes, stirs, flexes its muscles and, with a lazy flick of its gargantuan tail, gives me no alternative but to forget.

I know where I have to start. Of course, I wasn't present in person-wasn't even born then-but I'm sure that it was there, for all intents and purposes, that it began. I can picture it so clearly, as though these events are calling to me across the years, pleading with me to set them down on paper.

It's probably no coincidence that I've been thinking a lot lately about the old flat, the place in Tooting Bec where I lived with Abbey in happier times and which, in a strange sort of way (although I didn't realise it back then), was always at the heart of the business. Our house was built at some point late in the 1860s. I had other things on my mind whilst I lived there and I never looked into its history, but Abbey did once, in an offhand, mildly curious sort of way, spurred on, I think, by some TV show or other. Her findings were faintly disquieting, although she never discovered what I now know about the place. But then, how could she? The Directorate kept those records locked up safe and everyone who was present or who knew anything about them is long dead.

It happened late one night towards the end of April 6, 1967. Years before the house was divided into flats and a decade or so before I came into the world, a long, dark sedan motored to a stop outside the flat in Tooting Bec. Although spring should have been in full bloom, it had felt more like winter for almost a week and everyone had started wearing thick coats, hats and scarves again, shouldering their way to the backs of their wardrobes to tug out winter outfits that they'd hoped not to see again until October.

It had been raining for hours and the streets, lit up by the unforgiving yellow of the lamps, seemed to shine and dully glisten as though they'd been smeared with some grease or unguent. No one was abroad and the only sounds were the distant wail of a baby and the plaintive whinnies of urban foxes, padding through the darkened city, foraging for anything that might prove edible amongst the junk and wreckage so carelessly abandoned by humanity.

The car door opened and a tall man unfolded himself from the driver's seat-middle-aged; sharply, almost dandyishly dressed in a dark blue, single-breasted suit and still handsome, albeit with a cruelly vulpine quality to his features. With him was a woman, about the same age, but already moving like someone much older, a brittle spinster decades before her time. Both wore expressions of stoic professionalism mingled (and I suppose we must consider this to be to their credit) with a kind of distasteful disbelief at the unconscionable demands of their jobs.

They had a passenger with them, lolling in the back seat, apparently drunk almost to the point of insensibility. It was a woman, very young and even then, after all that had been done to her, still extremely beautiful. Most of her hair had been shaved away, although a few scattered, tufty islets remained. Her scalp was marked out with scorings, scars and half-healed incisions, and she seemed only dimly aware of what was happening to her, clinging to the man in the same way in which a child clutches at her father's hand on the way to her first day at school. He pulled her out onto the street and helped her stagger towards the front door of the house, letting her slump and flop against him, an arrangement which lent him the appearance of a shop boy grappling (not a little salaciously) with a storefront dummy.

When they got to the door, the older woman reached into her handbag, first for a key and then for a pair of torches. Once the door was open and the torches were switched on, the man steered the girl over the threshold, whispering declarations of love into her ear, honeyed fictions designed with the sole purpose of keeping her moving, saccharine lies told only to propel her onwards. Inside, the house was stripped and empty. The man dragged the girl down the corridor towards the dining room, the bobbing light of his torch picking out their way. His companion, after surveying the street with baleful eyes, busied herself in locking and bolting the door and ensuring, with the painstaking paranoia of the career professional, that the place was completely free of all listening devices, surveillance equipment and sundry bugs.

In the dining room there was an old white wooden chair, a few unlit candles and a brand-new television set. The floorboards were bare and seemed to have been daubed with strange signs and symbols in what I can only hope and pray was red paint. There was a strange quality of power in the room, of energy crackling in the air, its presence understood in the same distant way in which one might sense the throb of an engine or the humming whine of a generator.


Excerpted from The Domino Men by Jonathan Barnes Copyright © 2009 by Jonathan Barnes. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

Jeff Vandermeer
“Sneaky, cheeky, and dark in the best possible way, Jonathan Barnes’ massively entertaining The Somnambulist manages to make the familiar daringly unfamiliar. I enjoyed the heck out of this novel.”
Christopher Bram
“A comic extravaganza, deftly plotted, fiendishly clever, and wonderfully funny. . . . One of the classiest entertainments I’ve read.”
James Morrow
“Macabre wit and stylistic panache. Parliament should immediately pass a law requiring Barnes to write a sequel.”
Michael Marshall
“Magical, dark, beautifully oddand utterly compellingthis is an astonishing debut.”

Meet the Author

Jonathan Barnes, author of the critically acclaimed novel The Somnambulist, graduated from Oxford University with a first in English literature. He reviews for the Times Literary Supplement and lives in London.

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The Domino Men 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Sakmyster More than 1 year ago
The setup: Henry Lamb, mild-mannered clerk in an archive company, finds he's been involuntarily conscripted to join a clandestine organization called The Directorate that for over a hundred years has maintained a precarious defense against a hellish, otherworldly invasion. A defense that's about to crumble unless Henry can stop it. The narrative: brilliant in its alternating between Lamb's first person naiveté, and something else that takes over his narrative at times, mocking his prose and his ignorance, and relating a different tale that grows increasingly sinister as it progresses. And along the way we of course run into the Domino Men again - the grotesquely monstrous schoolboy-attired demons (or whatever) of gleeful mayhem from Barnes' first novel, The Somnambulist. And once again, we're soon off to the races in a climax of dizzying violence and epic consequences. The pacing is fast and furious, and Barnes has fun with social and political parody skewering royalty and big business culture alike. The revelation of what the Leviathan is - (no spoiler) - is conceived in Lovecraft but reads like Adams, or Gilliam, British through and through. My only real complaint is the title - why not call this one 'Leviathan'? Sure, the Domino Men were a big part of the plot here, but not the full focus, which I was led to expect and hope for. Why not save 'Domino Men' for a follow-up where we actually learn something about this pair - their origins, their weaknesses (if any), motivations (ditto). Especially since the ending of this one implies that they will still be making their presence known for the next go around. But otherwise a great page-turning read!
Brian_Baker More than 1 year ago
It's not often that a sequel surpasses the original work from which it derives, but in the case of "The Domino Men" that's definitely the case.

At the end of "Somnambulist", London was in ruins at the end of Queen Victoria's reign. This book picks up the story in present-day London, as the opposing forces of the epic struggle have used the intervening decades to restore their powers, so badly depleted in the previous battle.

This time, a milquetoast file clerk is the fulcrum of the Directorate's strategy, as well as bringing into play those two anarchic demons - Hawkins and Boon (the Domino Men) - who sowed so much destruction at the end of the last book.

Told in modern dialect (as opposed to the Victorian lingo of the previous work), all the verve, panache, and devilishly clever twists of the original continue in this sequel. Rich characterizations (the Domino Men are an absolute hoot!), tight plotting, and vivid scenery will keep you hooked from first page to last.

In many ways this book reminds me of Swift's "Gulliver's Travels": using dark satire to lampoon the current socio-political climate.

If you liked "The Somnambulist", you'll love "The Domino Men".
harstan More than 1 year ago
The Domino Men
Jonathan Barnes
Morrow, Jan 27 2009, $24.99
ISBN: 9780061671401

A century ago Queen Victoria signed a Faustian pack with the devil in which the bill is now due. Back when she made her deal with the Leviathan, opponents who felt strongly the English should resists formed an underground opposition The Directorate secretly fight the monarchy and its evil ally. They managed to incarcerate the malevolence in a temporary ¿prison¿, but the Leviathan is escaping and coming to collect the debt, the souls of all Londoners.

The Directorate needs a champion so they turn to government filing clerk Henry Lamb, a bureaucrat with no heroic qualities except being the grandson of their best undercover operative, who lies in a coma in a hospital. The leadership of the Directorate prays DNA wins out over ¿tea¿ and other stifling weapons of mass stupefaction especially working for the government. Henry is bewildered with what is going on as he meets the Directorate chief in the London Eye ferris wheel and is aware of two insane men (Hawker and Boon) dressed as children lurking under 10 Downing Street. All Henry wants out of life is a paltry pay check and his landlady; not battles with an abomination, the House of Windsor and their agents, and his supervisor at rating time. The real hope lies with Henry convincing the enigmatic dangerous Domino Men, who seem only interested in beating him to a pulp, to help the city, but Henry is a lowly bureaucrat not a charismatic leader.

As zany yet different than the Victorian Era fantasy thriller THE SOMNAMBULIST, THE DOMINO MEN is another wild ride, but this time takes place in modern London. The story line is fast-paced from the moment a stranger falls from a window to Henry¿s and never slows down yet contains word play and jocular observations about power (always abused), tea (a watered down drug of choice), and heroes (everyday people). The cast is over the top of Big Ben but also make the soul eater seem terrifying even before the arrival. Not for everyone, THE DOMINO MEN is a refreshing humorous contemporary thriller.

Harriet Klausner
LordVader More than 1 year ago
Well worth the time spent reading it. The characters were fascinating, though the Domino Men themselves tiresome, which of course was their intent.
aimee1 More than 1 year ago
I am going to save my typing hand and not give the premise of the whole story (Read It). What I am going to do Is simply tell the reader, The Domino Men is one of those rare, intriguing reads that does not come around often. I did not think Barnes could make his second book as good as The Somnambulist, but he does. I love Jonathan Barnes! He is hands down my favorite new writer!
Sean_From_OHIO More than 1 year ago
Hmmmm.....this was a novel where the reader and the main character are equally clueless as to what's going on in the beginning of the book. However that befuddlement lasts way too long. There ideas in this book that are really interesting and there are a bunch of quirky characters who are on the path to intriguing but never quite make it. The ending is beyond bad almost to the point where you have to question how any editor said it was good enough. Also, the writing style didn't always mesh with what was going on in the book. Overall, after The Somnambulist, a big let down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago