Author: Jonathan Barnes
281 pages • £10.99
We ended our review of Barnes’s first book, The Somnambulist, questioning whether the joke might wear thin in any sequels. Barnes neatly sidesteps this problem by producing a quasi-sequel, set in an entirely new time period with new lead characters and a plot that only connects with its predecessor in oblique details. Within these new surroundings, Barnes’s quirky concepts and bizarre characters feel refreshed rather than rehashed, though certain problems remain.
The action moves from Victorian to contemporary (but parallel universe) London. In a Britain where Prince Arthur waits for his reclusive mother to pop her clogs, lowly office worker – and erstwhile sitcom star – Henry Lamb discovers that his Grandfather has passed on an unusual heritage. Seems “the old bastard” once worked for a shadowy agency called the Directorate, whose mission is to save London from the treachery of the Royal Family. Oh, and returning from the first book are the Prefects, a duo of deranged, time-travelling killers dressed like something out of Tom Brown’s Schooldays.
Barnes’s phantasmagorical style of storytelling suited the Victorian setting better. The modern London presented here, though highly stylised, is far less evocatively realised and slightly at odds with the outlandish events – a drug plotline brings to mind opium dens rather than rave culture. And while Barnes’s characters remain colourful and his plotting is ingenious (the book’s written in the first person by two people, battling to take control of the prose), at times the writing can feel a bit like Terry Pratchett without the gags: light, frothy and highly readable, but with not quite enough bite. If The Domino Men was a sitcom it’d be Red Dwarf given a makeover by Roy Clarke.